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Elmhurst residents, builders continue to question proposed stormwater policy for new homes

ELMHURST – The Public Works and Buildings Committee received more than 40 pages of comments and concerns from local builders Tuesday before the scheduled committee meeting about the new home stormwater infiltration policy the committee is reviewing.

"During the actual meeting itself I was a little disappointed," said Chris Healy, Fifth Ward alderman and committee vice chairman, who was hoping to discuss possible solutions rather than complaints.

The proposed policy would require new construction homes to include a minimum of 750 cubic feet of on-site stormwater storage in the form of a french-drain, rain garden, underground infiltration pipe, rain harvesting system, or some combination of those options.

"It's also an unfeasible mandate," said Deanne Mazzochi, an Elmhurst resident and lawyer who assembled the 41-page document of comments on the policy.

Mazzochi doesn't believe the policy will be effective or plausible given the current requirements. The stormwater storage container would still be connected to the city's storm sewer, which is often overtaxed during heavy rains.

"When it comes to trying to fit these units on a lot you may have to start ripping out trees to comply with manufacturer's specifications," said Mazzochi bringing up another concern.

Although Mazzochi referenced the manufacturer's specifications, the Public Works and Buildings Committee did make changes to the proposed policy since the previous committee meeting Sept. 23, including allowing a civil engineer to determine the storage location. The policy used to restrict it to only the back yard.

Healy said Tuesday's meeting was less productive than he expected because he felt the committee received more complaints than constructive suggestions. His conversation with a handful of builders and architects after the meeting left him with suggestions about a sliding scale for stormwater storage for lots smaller than 10,000 square feet and possibly charging a fee in lieu of installing stormwater storage.

Healy isn't sure if he supports either suggestion or not but is willing to discuss them further.

"Those are the kinds of things I thought we should have been talking about at the meeting but we didn't," Healy said.

Mazzochi maintains the document she prepared contains suggestions as well as comments on the proposed policy, and Healy said he is willing to consider them but still hopes to move the policy forward quickly.

"I'm still in favor with moving forward with the policy. That doesn't mean that the policy can't be changed at some point," Healy said.

Healy said he believes all items related to combating flooding in Elmhurst are urgent. He understands that while the first home that implements stormwater storage may not make a huge impact, the policy has the potential to provide millions of gallons of storage in the long run.

Healy said major stormwater storage projects, like the proposal that involves using park district and school district property, would make a bigger impact, but he thinks requiring storage for new homes could help in the cases where homes flood by just a few inches.

"They're not opposed to doing things to strengthen houses to make them better and more flood resistant," said Mazzochi of the builders she's talked to.

She thinks the proposed policy reinforces the idea that new homes are to blame for Elmhurst's increasingly frequent flooding, but argues that engineering reports have not substantiated that claim.

"I love new homes, and I have no problem with new homes," said Healy. "It's not about assigning blame for floods. To me this has always been about creating localized detention."

The Public Works and Buildings Committee will review the policy again at its next meeting Oct. 28.

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