VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — To help combat more frequent flooding events in the city, Virginia Beach is now holding developers to higher standards when it comes to their defenses against rising water.
In the last week, several hundred homeowners in the city have seen their streets turned into creeks and ponds after heavy rainfall. Cars became stranded, as stormwater systems struggled to keep up with the demand in several neighborhoods.
It’s that and other similar flooding situations that led City Council to approve an updated set of “design standards” in mid-June.
The goal? Fix problems before they become problems.
“We know it’s going to be a little more expensive, design costs are going to go up,” said Phil Pullen, the city’s engineer, during a presentation to council in early June.
Moving forward, those looking to build anything from a house, to a housing development, to a store, will have to play by new rules.
For starters, private engineers will no longer be able to rely on their own rain runoff calculations. Rather they must use ones provided by the city. Developers have to plan for 20 percent more rainfall than current National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data calls for. After construction, designers will be required to certify that the stormwater facility they designed was built according to plan.
All projects deemed “critical infrastructure” — like hospitals and police stations — must be built to handle 3 feet of sea level rise from current levels. All other development will be required to plan for 1.5 feet of sea level rise.
“We’ve been doing the science the last few years and we have codified it in this manual,” Pullen said.
Not unexpectedly, there has been some pushback from the development community. Last year, state Sen. Bill DeSteph, (R-Virginia Beach), who also develops properties, said stricter standards “will discourage people to build in the city” and make homeownership less affordable.
“I don’t think they’ll ever be a condition where the building industry … will like tougher standards,” said Acting City Manager Tom Leahy the night of the vote.
The standards only apply to new construction. Current property owners will not have to change anything unless they plan to add on to their property.
Flooding poses problems for just about every part of Hampton Roads, but Virginia Beach is uniquely suited to get hit from every angle: the Atlantic pushes in from the east, the Chesapeake Bay from the north, the Elizabeth River from the west and the Currituck Sound from the south.
Council also approved its long-awaited “Sea Level Wise” plan. In 2015 the city hired Dewberry for $4 million to conduct the study to have a better idea of how much sea level rise to expect, how the city could fight back, and how much it would cost. Estimates based on scientific models indicate Virginia Beach should plan for about a foot and a half of sea level rise by 2050, and 3 feet by 2080.
Many of the proposals listed to combat the rising tides are quite expensive and will take years of additional planning. However, green infrastructure improvements have received some of the highest public approval.
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