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VOICES FROM THE INDUSTRY: Low-impact development likely to make a big impact

August 14, 2006

Every time Indiana experiences one of its summer cloudbursts, the rainfall sets into motion one of a real estate development's most expensive and least appreciated systems.

As rain hits the ground, it quickly collects into wellengineered courses to swales and gutters, through pipes and culverts and into detention ponds. Flowing around, over and through the land that once absorbed it, the water is efficiently collected and conveyed off the site. In other words, gather it up and drain it off.

Collection and conveyance has been accepted as the best method for managing storm water for many years. Developers have taken great pains to make the various gutters, pipes and ponds involved in this process as efficient, ecologically friendly and aesthetically pleasing as possible, but there are limits to what can be achieved through this process, and the standards imposed for dealing with runoff grow more stringent every day.

As a result, the time has come for developers, governmental authorities, and communities at large to examine new techniques for storm water runoff management-innovative techniques that deliver environmental, aesthetic and financial benefits.

New approach

Storm water often has been viewed as a liability, a problem that had to be solved. That led to the collection-and-conveyance approach. But now a new approach, Low Impact Development, or LID, offers a new view. Through LID, water is treated as a natural part of site development.

While the accepted system for handling runoff creates a new water-flow system, the objective of LID is to mimic a piece of land's pre-development water flow (or, in technical terms, its hydrology) as much as possible, addressing water where it naturally flows and collects rather than moving it to a central location.

This is done through a number of techniques and tools, including landscape features such as rain gardens and rainwater collection systems. It also can be done by incorporating new or different materials, such as pervious pavements, or through altered infrastructure, such as narrower roads and sidewalks.

While providing better, more environmentally sound ways to manage water flow, these techniques can also create more attractive developments, especially when executed by creative architects and designers.

LID is not a fad or a gimmick. It is a possible step toward more ecologically and civically responsible building-a step that does not rely on reducing development or density but, rather, allows for development that works with a property's natural hydrology.

Implementing LID also can help lower development implementation costs through reduced earthwork and lower manufactured-infrastructure costs.

There are also the less-immediately-tangible benefits, such as the increased sales and leasing that may result from improved aesthetics and the public's recognition of the developer as environmentally friendly.

It's difficult to quantify such benefits, due to the many factors affecting development costs. And even with these benefits in place, there are limits to what LID can accomplish-a number of factors can affect whether LID is practical for specific developments.

However, one benefit of LID stormwater management is improved public safety. As the use of detention ponds is minimized or eliminated, so too is the danger of accidental drowning.

Changing expectations

Perhaps developers and governmental authorities should now begin to look at the tools and technologies of LID, investigating what components might be appropriate for each development. It's certain that runoff regulations will continue to become stricter, and developers who pioneer new techniques may help discourage future "top-down" regulation from the public sector.

Eventually, we'll adopt new drainagemanagement techniques that help to conserve natural drainage systems and support the recharge of groundwater in aquifers.

And that's good news-certainly for our environment and communities, and fortunately, also for business.



Mann is managing partner of Mann Properties, a commercial, industrial and residential developer based in Indianapolis. Views expressed here are the writer's.
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