The city of Louisa’s planning commission has recommended approval for a major housing development, despite concerns from some residents about stormwater runoff.
The commission voted 4-0 on May 31 in favor of the Timber Oaks project, which could include up to 85 new single-family and multi-family homes. The 11-acre development would be on two properties adjacent to Jefferson Highway (Route 33) on the east end of town, one owned by VSHI LLC and the other by the Fred Bickley Revocable Trust.
John Purcell, the city council’s liaison to the commission, voted in favor of the development, along with President Carter Cooke, Ronald Bullock and Maxine Butcher. Cochran Garnett was absent.
Ahead of the vote, Purcell stressed that stormwater management plans must be approved by the state Department of Environmental Quality.
The state usually reviews these plans after a development proposal has already received the green light from municipal authorities.
Vicky Harte, whose Tanyard home is about 250ft from the property line of the proposed development, said the land behind her home was flooded all the time, even though there had been no recent storms. It has only become a problem in the past five years, she said.
She attributed the problem to increased water volume in Beaver Creek, which runs through the area. One of the sources of that water, she said, comes from treated sewage discharges from the nearby Pine Ridge Drive Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant. The factory was not yet built when she moved to her home in the 1980s.
“I fully support this development,” she said of the housing plan, “but I can’t handle the water, and neither can my neighbors.”
Harte tried to get affordable flood insurance, she said, but can’t because the county dropped the National Flood Insurance Program in 2016. The county didn’t want to implement mitigation measures required by the federal government that were seen as impediments to landowners’ ability to use their land.
Other speakers at the public hearing cited flooding along Tanyard Creek, which empties into Beaver Creek at the end of Club Road. The water volume of this creek has increased due to recent residential development on the west end of town in the Countryside subdivision.
Manning Woodward, a townsman who serves on the county’s planning commission, cited stormwater runoff problems at a large solar panel project west of town as an example of what can go wrong. Plans for this project were approved by the DEQ, and then local farmers began reporting flooding on their side of the solar field property line.
“We can’t rely on DEQ…we can’t just endorse this,” Woodward said. “If it was flat ground, it wouldn’t be a problem. As we remove trees and add asphalt, there must be more runoff.
Rick Myer, vice president of the Tanyard Property Owners Association, said flooding from Tanyard Creek sometimes penetrates manhole covers along a sewer line in the area, causing problems for the sewage treatment plant. He also complained that some of the culverts carrying water under the neighborhood’s roads are undersized, sometimes contributing to flooding, but the city has refused to do anything about it.
“No one will take any responsibility for any of this – they just say it’s the owners [problem],” he said. “But no owner will be able to afford all that.”
Tim Miller, director of Meridian Planning Group, represented landowners at the commission meeting. He said his clients will be required by state regulations to reduce stormwater runoff by 80% after the development is complete. The master plan for the housing project includes sidewalks, curbs and gutters, so runoff from the road through the site will be channeled to storm drains rather than adjacent grass.
“I think the concern is for larger storms,” said John Robins, the city engineer. He asked Miller if the development could be designed to handle a 25-year or 100-year flood, as opposed to floods that can happen once a decade.
“It’s not easy to remember 100 years [flood]“You would have to occupy the entire property. If it was a 300-acre development, you would have the acreage to do it. He noted that the Virginia Department of Transportation designs its roads to manage 10-year floods, so that nearby streams are not eroded.
Another issue that concerned attendees at Tuesday’s hearing was how people would enter and exit the property. Miller said the primary access to the property would be Jefferson Highway, with a second access point off Pine Ridge Drive near the sewage treatment plant.
Woodward urged the commission to insist that VSHI and Bickley waive the option of building a road connection with Barnstormer Circle or Club Road. Plans submitted to the city show that VSHI has a deeded right of way to Barnstormer Circle, and possibly a second to Club Road.
Miller said he would be willing to offer that no links be allowed on either route. Road connections would make no sense, he said, because any road would have to cross the floodplain along Beaver Creek, making them prohibitively expensive.
A public hearing on the request has yet to be scheduled before the Louisa City Council.