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Mecklenburg County -- home of Charlotte, North Carolina -- like many growing counties across the country, realized that urbanization was quickly degrading its streams and water quality. New developments were increasing the rate and volume of stormwater runoff, which was polluting and degrading the streams. The county, working with Tetra Tech Inc., performed a watershed assessment and found that the streams would continue to degrade if future development was not managed differently. This assessment led the Town of Huntersville to write an ordinance to prevent further degradation and require development to use low-impact design.

At the time of the county's watershed assessment, the Town of Huntersville, 12 miles north of Charlotte, had realized that urbanization was quickly depleting open space in its community. With the impending construction of a rail corridor, the town knew that it had to act quickly to plan a smart future. Huntersville enforced a development moratorium and began to draft an ordinance with open space and density regulations.

Aware that Huntersville was about to write a new development ordinance, Mecklenburg County presented the town with its watershed assessment findings and demonstrated how, if policies did not change, future development would further degrade the streams and lakes in Huntersville and the rest of the McDowell Creek watershed. The county asked Huntersville to include water quality measures in its ordinance. The two governments discussed water quality goals and agreed that they should strive for no future degradation.

Tetra Tech presented examples of how other communities use low-impact development (LID) techniques to minimize the post-development runoff from a development site and closely mimic the runoff volume and timing of the pre-development site. Tetra Tech discussed how LID techniques are designed to reduce more nutrients and sediment from runoff than conventional techniques. The Town of Huntersville expressed interest in using LID to reach the goal of non-degradation. The town asked for site examples of how LID could achieve non-degradation and how much it would cost.

The site examples not only illustrated the impact of stringent water quality requirements but also how density requirements would work in concert with water quality goals. Huntersville contracted with Tetra Tech to evaluate four site examples that represented the town's developments of concern: commercial, high-density residential, medium-density residential, and institutional (a school). The commercial and high-density residential sites were located within the proposed urban districts (Transit- Oriented Development, Town Center, and Highway Commercial Zoning Districts), while the school and medium density site were outside of the proposed urban district. For each site, Tetra Tech assessed the stormwater impacts and construction costs for two scenarios: one conventional design meeting the town's existing stormwater management regulations and one meeting more stringent water quality performance standards with low-impact design.

Although water quality performance standards were significantly more protective than the town's existing standards, the financial comparison of the site designs ranged from a net LID cost of 50,000 for the school LID site to a net savings of over 25,000 for the LID high and medium density residential sites. The examples showed that LID may cost slightly more than conventional design for nonresidential or high-density sites, but for high and medium-density residential sites, LID could be less costly than conventional design.

Based on the water quality and fiscal impact analysis, performance standards were developed for the town's ultra-urban zoning districts and for other zoning districts to meet a goal of non-degradation. In 2003, the Town of Huntersville adopted a town-wide water quality ordinance with performance standards and required the use of low impact design techniques for all future development and redevelopment. This paper will discuss how the water quality goals and performance standards were used in the case study site designs and the findings of the four case studies.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 January 2004

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