By Carol Kania Morency
Several home builders descended on Elmhurst’s Public Works and Buildings Committee Monday night asking for time to review a proposal that would mandate on-site stormwater storage for new construction.
Aldermen are still reviewing a potential policy requiring new homes to store stormwater using either an underground filtration system, rain garden, french drain or rainwater harvesting system, or some combination of those. New homes would no longer be allowed to connect downspouts to the city’s storm sewer, which has been overtaxed during heavy rains in recent years and caused massive flooding in parts of the city.
But many of the builders on Monday claimed they only recently heard of plans to require new homes to absorb their own rainwater runoff, and expressed skepticism that the ideas outlined in the city’s proposed policy would even work.
Builder Dave McKenna spread out plans for a house he currently has under construction and pointed to the trees on the lot, noting that it would be hard to install the kind of underground storage system the city suggests in the policy.
Home builders also said they believe new construction was being unfairly targeted as the source of flooding problems in the city.
“No one is suggesting new homes are to blame,” 5th Ward Alderman Chris Healy said. “It’s our intent to create localized detention wherever we can."
Storage mandates for new homes are just one tactic aldermen have studied to mitigate flooding. A resident committee, formed in the wake of devastating 2010 storms, and a consultant have both offered up reams of reports and many solutions for the city to consider. Proposals involve public and private land, large city-financed works and projects that homeowners can take on for a few thousand dollars, possibly through cost-sharing initiatives with the city.
Earlier this month, aldermen also heard an update on the Southwest Elmhurst Wet Weather Control Facility, which is scheduled to begin construction soon. The project is "the first and most important component in addressing sanitary sewer backup," RJN Group's Alan Hollenbeck told the City Council Sept. 16.
This project includes a major upgrade to the Jackson/Saylor lift station, installing new force mains and a large storage well, improving the flow of water to the treatment plant, and other upgrades that will reduce the likelihood of basement backups.
But it will not address overland flooding, Healy said Sept. 16.
"We're doing a lot of things at Saylor/Jackson that are good … but none of that will impact that area when it comes to overland flooding. That area is still a FEMA flood zone," he said. "This is purely sanitary (sewer backups)."
The city also is in negotiations with Elmhurst Park District and Elmhurst Unit District 205 to use park and school land for water detention.
- Stormwater Negotiations: City Will Not Get a Yes or No Answer From Park Board
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On Monday, the committee also heard a report on the concept of rain gardens, or smaller water infiltration systems for homeowners that involve installing deep-rooted plants. To prepare a rain garden, clay soil would be removed and “engineered” soil, including compost and sand, would be layered under topsoil. Plants that can withstand both inundations of rain and draught periods are used. A 15-foot-by-30-foot area that can hold 150 to 200 cubic feet of water would cost a homeowner $3,000 to $5,000, the committee was told.
Builders asked for a few weeks to review the stormwater storage proposal and offer their suggestions to the city. The committee invited them back on Oct. 15 for a status update.