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Thread: Standards regulating development in well-dominant communities

  1. #1

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    Standards regulating development in well-dominant communities

    Hope you guys can help me out a little here. I'm with a consulting firm representing a suburb that has maintained a rural setting (minimum 5 acre lots). They have partly done that by not installing any water or sewer connections and requiring all new development to have wells and septic tanks. Most wells are no deeper than 100 feet.

    A developer owns a large parcel in the suburb. He wants to build on smaller lots (is a 3 acre lot small?), but the suburb won't allow it. The developer then decided to go to court to de-annex his property from the suburb. That would give him the flexibility he wants by becoming unincorporated, and he stands a very good chance of winning his case.

    The suburb has regulatory control through its subdivision ordinance over land that extends 1 1/2 miles beyond its corporate boundaries, and intends to use that as a tool after de-annexation. Their argument is that additional development at higher levels of density can threaten the water table and recharge for its residents. The question is: what have municipalities done to limit development in this regard, particularly as they apply to land application systems?

    Please help me if you can. I'm admittedly a novice in this area, having worked in much more urban environments prior to this.

    BTW, I was a semi-regular Cyburbanite before starting this job in mid-November. I'm glad I can use this forum for things like this.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian donk's avatar
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    A few questions.

    1) Does the subdivision ordinance provide for demonstration of the quality and quantity of water for the new / proposed development? If so you may have them do the appropriate studies, if not you may want to look at adding it to the by-law.

    2) Does the area have a history of bad water? (quality/quantity). sometimes a call to local newspaper is all that it take to discourage bad / premature development, mention walkerton, ontario.

    3) Was / is the property zoned correctly for the use? If it is zoned correctly, and the "town" just says no for no real reason,other then conjecture, then the zoning by-law may need a revision to reflect the reality of the area. If not how can they refuse to grant something that complies with the by-law?

    A few observations.

    1) In my area and other areas I have lived,3 acres is not a small lot.

    To answer your question.

    Our legislation enables us to request the applicant demonstrate the nature and availability of domestic water supplies. We have a standing policy here that new large scale developments (over 10) lots need to have a report prepared by a licensed hydrogeologist before we will approve a plan. The report must indicate that the water suppliy complies with established canadian standards.



    Hope this helps.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Jeff's avatar
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    I'm not sure how case law works when cross-referencing states.

    PA Supreme Court recently ruled that a municipality can not restrict lot sizes to greater than 2 acres. Anyway, the precedent has been set that requiring 5 acre losts is pretty unreasonable.

    As far as annexing from the municipality...you're on your own on that one.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian
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    The County of San Diego has a Groundwater Ordinance that sets parcel size based upon average annual rainfall, regardless of the zoning and requires a groundwater study for an entire parcel to be subdivided plus well tests for each individual well site. It has worked pretty well for us.

    =Bob

  5. #5

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    The PA ruling on minimum lot sizes is seriously out of synch with both reality and most other states. Lots of places successfully limit the density of development to protect water quality (usually among other reasons), but to make that stick, you need some good geohydrology on your side! The first thing you need to do is determine how much your client really knows about the hydrogeology of the area: do they have good studies? Also check with your state geological survey (in some states your state geological survey can provide limited technical assistance to communities - that could help), the USGS, the NRCS, and any regional planning agencies that cover the area. It is important to make the developer conduct studies before subdivision, but it is more important to be able to evaluate them properly. So find what you can, then go find a good geohydrologist (this will be expensive) to help you sort out all the data, determine how defensible your client's position really is (it has happened that people adopt a minimum lot size that is ostensibly to protect water quality, but is really for less defensible reasons), and decide how to proceed. If you client has good data, you should stand pat.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Jeff's avatar
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    Originally posted by Lee Nellis
    The PA ruling on minimum lot sizes is seriously out of synch with both reality and most other states.
    I disagree....

    In the Philadelphia suburbs, and I'm sure Chicago suburbs are similar, land is at a premium. 5 acre residential zoning never stood a chance around here.

    Other more rural areas can get away with it I'm sure. But not in a major metropolis.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Originally posted by Mike DeVuono

    ...and I'm sure Chicago suburbs are similar, land is at a premium. 5 acre residential zoning never stood a chance around here.
    Sadly, not true around Chicago. There are many locations where the multi-thousand square foot uglyhouse on five acres is the dominant feature on the landscape. These have now replaced the farm fields and happy cows I fondly remember driving past on my way up to Wisconsin several times every summer.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    Off-topic:
    Mike - how could you tell they were happy?

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Originally posted by bturk
    Off-topic:
    Mike - how could you tell they were happy?
    It is not difficult, for someone who has spent a lot of time with cows, to figure out when one is happy or not. A happy cow will generally be standing, walking, or lying around. At times, they will be eating or at least appear to be chewing. On other occassions they may make a noise that sounds like "moo." To the uneducated, these may appear to be normal cow behaviours. To a bovine afficianado, they are the signs of a care-free cow.

    Mod Note: Animated image deleted.

  10. #10

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    Originally posted by Michael Stumpf


    Sadly, not true around Chicago.
    Mike is right. There are many mega-homes on mega-lots in Chicago's suburbs. The flat expanse of the Illinois prairie practically invites such development.

    A few more details. Water is plentiful, at least given the density of the suburb (only 3,900 people in 29 square miles). Water quality is fine, according to studies done by previous developers and the suburb. All homes use well and septic systems, with wells being dug some 80-100 feet to the water source.

    So, we can't argue against more dense development by citing a lack of water. We aren't going to be able to use a San Diego-derived model of determining parcel size by the amount of annual rainfall; we get plenty of precipitation here.

    So far our argument has been that runoff from land application systems at higher densities would adversely impact the water quality of the lower density areas of this community. This hasn't been tested in Plan Commission yet, but it's where we're headed.

    And yes, this is a community that implemented outrageous residential zoning standards as a defensible measure -- at least that's my belief.

    Have rural areas successfully used decreased water quality as a defense against more dense development? And how was that done?

  11. #11
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    You may want to contact the Village of Paddock Lake, Wi. They used to permit septic on small lots (much smaller than 3 acres, though), and I think a few years ago, had to construct a very expensive sewer system because of problems.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian
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    Originally posted by Michael Stumpf
    You may want to contact the Village of Paddock Lake, Wi. They used to permit septic on small lots (much smaller than 3 acres, though), and I think a few years ago, had to construct a very expensive sewer system because of problems.
    Well the lot size doesn't matter as much as how the septic system perks. We have lots in this county that are on septic and as small as a third of an acre and we have a couple of areas with large lots that are under a moretorium because the groundwater is simply too high to use septic. The main problem you run into with small lots is when they're also on wells, because you've got to have a separation between the septic and the well and that can't always be achieved.

    =Bob

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