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Everyone Wins: A Stormwater Retrofit in a Public Park

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As many other communities, the City of Rockville, Maryland struggles to add stormwater management (SWM) to older neighborhoods. Pollutant and erosion reduction goals vie with resident demands for recreation, mature trees, and open space. It is hard to convince residents that a SWM pond also can be an attractive community feature. With the new College Gardens Park SWM pond, the City has proven that big SWM can be beautiful. Further, it can be a community-wide design experience that provides a little something for everyone.

College Gardens Park was built in the 1960s as a neighborhood amenity. The 2.4-hectare (6-acre) public park incorporated an old, spring-fed farm pond, and added play areas, a gazebo and paths. A storm drain traversed the park, unconnected to the farm pond. The storm drain's 32-hectare (79-acre) drainage area of mixed residential and commercial areas was 63% impervious, with hardly any SWM. Canada geese had colonized the farm pond, leading to goose droppings throughout the park and algae blooms in the pond. At the storm drain's outfall downstream, uncontrolled runoff was eroding adjacent backyards.

In the 2001 Watts Branch Watershed Management Plan, the City recommended reconstructing the College Gardens Park farm pond as a SWM wet pond. It would triple the size of the farm pond, intercepting the nearby storm drain and routing runoff from smaller storms (up to the 1-year storm) through the pond. The pond expansion would take grassed play area and cause relocation of several park features. Although some residents embraced the new pond and park upgrades, others feared loss of trees and usable open space.

The City spent several years exploring alternatives with the community, such as widespread Low Impact Design SWM. A new College Gardens Task Force spent two more years on concepts and detailed engineering design for the pond and park. The task force included representatives from the civic associations, the elementary school, the Department of Public Works, the City Forester and Parks Manager, the City Manager's office, and the City's civil engineer and landscape architect consultants. The process involved more than 20 public meetings. The Task Force wrestled with priorities and design issues, a park user survey, community selection of park features (such as deck materials, bridge and fountain styles, and stone veneers for walls and pond structures), and landscaping plan reviews from the local garden club. By 2006, the community and the City concluded that the pond reconstruction was the most practical and cost-effective watershed improvement, and that both a new SWM pond and improved park features could co-exist.

After seven years of sometimes intense debate, the residents enthusiastically endorsed building the College Gardens Park and Pond. It is the most collaborative and long-term water resources effort undertaken by Rockville Department of Public Works, which managed the original watershed study, the project alternatives analysis, engineering design and eventual construction for the SWM work, stream restoration and park improvements.

The College Gardens Park and SWM Pond project achieved more than its goal of full water quality and downstream channel erosion protection, based on the State's 2000 stormwater management standards. The pond incorporated two viewing decks, interpretive signage, dam and retaining wall designs to maximize tree preservation around the pond, and nearly 300 trees and shrubs. 4,000 plants were added in and around the pond for a lush wetland bench surrounding the pond's edge. Park improvements included a new basketball court, park shelter, and portable bathrooms. Park paths were resurfaced and made compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act grade requirements.

The City completed construction in early 2010, eleven years from the first concept's debut. The project has re-designed and renovated the park, created a functional SWM facility with extensive aesthetic and interpretive features, and installed stream restoration below the park. Achieving modern stormwater control here means substantially less pollution and erosion to the downstream tributary of Watts Branch.

As important, the new park exceeded everyone's expectations and the community is extremely pleased with the results. The park displays stormwater management in action in a way that nobody imagined prior to this project. Other neighborhoods are now asking for similar SWM designs for their parks. The College Gardens Park SWM pond is the result of a truly cooperative effort between residents and the City of Rockville.

City staff gained many insights during the eleven year process, especially due to the team approach this project required. Lessons learned included:

• Try to incorporate something in the proposal to suit all the users, reviewers, or critics. It may not be much, but a small feature, an added safety measure, saving one tree, or even answering a particular question keeps people engaged.

• Look for ways to make design features as attractive as possible. Look for chances to add colors, textures, veneers or concrete tinting, pavers, or other landscape architecture features.

• Let the community choose. The City can offer several acceptable options, but let the residents pick a style, color, placement or priority.

• Bring the varied stakeholders, interests and experts to the thinking table. Then ask them to listen to each other, so they understand the basics about all the issues. They shouldn't sit at the decision table until they spend a lot of time at the thinking table.

• The end result has to work for all the City departments that manage the park and pond. City staff buy-in is as essential as resident buy-in.

• Make sure the original project goals will be met (in this case, effective SWM).

• Take the time to build the necessary community and staff support

• A good project may take years to come to fruition.

• Good post-construction maintenance is as essential as good initial design.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2012-01-01

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