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 The Berkley City Council held a first reading of an ordinance that would establish new standards for residential grading and drainage for new home builds. The hope is that the new standards will mitigate flooding into residential properties.

The Berkley City Council held a first reading of an ordinance that would establish new standards for residential grading and drainage for new home builds. The hope is that the new standards will mitigate flooding into residential properties.

Photo by Mike Koury

Berkley looks at rules for new home builds to prevent flooding

By: Mike Koury | Woodward Talk | Published May 14, 2019

BERKLEY  — Stormwater runoff and flooding have been an issue in Berkley for some time, and the city hopes that a change to its code will help improve the lives of residents.

The Berkley City Council approved the first reading of an ordinance at its May 6 meeting to establish new standards for residential grading and drainage for new home builds.

City Manager Matt Baumgarten said Berkley has had a code for a long time that hasn’t suited its needs well and has caused a number of issues with residents and their properties being flooded.

“A number of residents have had to come to this body to voice their displeasure with the way that we’ve managed stormwater — particularly on new construction — and in the opportunity where we’ve had the chance to enforce regrading on a property, we have been very specific on focusing really just on the property that’s being improved and making sure that all that water flows towards the street, where it can be collected through the surface drains,” he said. “Obviously, as the more we’ve gotten into this, the more conversations I’ve had with council, as well as members of the public at large, residents, we have seen that change is well-warranted.”

The ordinance states that grading, as it relates to residential structures, “shall be so developed as to drain storm and surface water away from residential dwellings to an approved place of discharge. All new buildings and structures shall be constructed at the elevation of the average grade unless otherwise approved by the building official. New grades shall not be established that would permit an increase in the runoff of surface water onto adjacent properties. The existing or natural drainage of lands shall not be altered so as to obstruct, impede, accelerate, channel, or concentrate the flow of storm or surface water onto or from the lands of another so as to cause damage thereto or create a nuisance thereon.”

Any violations of the ordinance would be misdemeanors and, to the court’s discretion, punishable by up to 90 days in jail, a fine of not more than $500 or both. The council did bring up possibly changing the penalty to a civil infraction in the future.

Community Development Director Tim McLean said the city has seen a lot of new construction in the last 10 years. The current standard had water being directed out to the street so it wouldn’t be flowing onto the neighbor’s property.

However, he said, it potentially created numerous problems where the natural flow of water was disrupted with a raised grade on a new build, causing flooding.

“It can cause inadequate drainage of surface waters for several properties around a new build,” McLean said. “This is a complaint we’ve heard a lot. … Basically, your new standard would apply to any residential development affecting the land outside of the structure. The proposed changes would require that the property be graded in such a way that there is no increase in the amount of surface water flowing onto adjoining properties. You can still flow, but you can’t increase.”

McLean said the city also would require a developer to submit a detailed plan indicating how any additional water flow would be managed to verify that the finished grade matches the approved site plan.

Jim Wright, with McKenna Associates, an engineering consultant firm, said that this is not an unusual problem in communities.

“When you have new residential construction — especially in Berkley, which tends to have smaller lots and we’re building larger houses — it becomes harder to control the water so they don’t affect the neighbors,” he said. “This is the attempt we’re trying to make to be able to control that you’re ahead of it. Still allowing the building, we’re allowing the builder to come up with solutions for the drainage problems. It’s just that now we’re assisting the neighbors.”

Jim Oliver, of Oliver Construction Inc., said this is a problem close to him, as it’s something he’s worked on for decades as a home builder. He asked Wright if he goes in and acquires a property that “essentially has served as a drainage field for other properties” and hasn’t been maintained in years, if he would become responsible for maintaining all other properties around its water flow.

Wright said the additional water coming from that property would have to be controlled, to which Oliver wondered if that would make builders become managers of “all flow of water on all the other properties.”

“I do want council to consider the impact that this will have on builders as a whole. It will add thousands to their projects. … It will ultimately lower the number of new construction projects that enter the city,” he said.

“It will impact people throughout the city in ways that may not have been considered yet. It’s going to be something that all of us, as builders, are going to have to be careful with because we are now engineers for the city’s drainage systems,” he said.

Resident Nancy Stimac said that, as someone whose home has been flooded by a new build, this is an issue the city should have taken up a long time ago, as complaints have been coming in for years.

“I continue to flood because of the high grade of the property next to me. It’s the builder’s responsibility to stop that from happening, and the city’s, and while I don’t like to see someone’s property become less valuable, I know mine did because of the new build next to it, and we can’t manage the water,” she said.

“We’ve already spent thousands of dollars protecting the house. The yard is probably a waste. I’ve worked on that yard for 20 years. Bringing in soil and mending the soil, and I lost it all. So I’m not very sympathetic to the builders that come into the city if they can’t manage their water.”