WARRENTON — City Commissioners tried to hit a balance Tuesday between allowing a developer to build in a wetland area and addressing neighborhood fears that any new buildings will exacerbate flooding and drainage issues on their street.
The debate highlights a common problem when it comes to building in the wetland-rich city where major development has occurred in the past, continues today and is expected to unfold in the future. Despite all the flat land, there’s also water everywhere. It swells with the tides and during heavy rains. It never truly goes away.
“Hey, you can walk out here, poke a hole in the asphalt and dig down a foot and you’re going to find water,” City Commissioner Mark Baldwin said.
On Tuesday, residents of Cedar Avenue continued their appeal of a Planning Commission decision to allow developer Adam Crites to build on a small portion of his property designated as wetland. Crites hopes to build duplexes on the street.
Residents Terry and Nancy Ager argued that Cedar Avenue and Cedar Court are routinely impacted during tidal and heavy rain events, and flooding damage occurred in the 1980s and 1990s.
They did not oppose new development on the street but they asked that Crites not be allowed to fill in the wetlands. Nancy Ager also asked for city protection if Crites was allowed to fill in the wetland and then something went wrong.
Crites disputed the neighbors’ claims. There are drainage issues on the street, he said, but there is no analysis to back up claims that his development plans would impact neighboring properties. But, he added, he wanted to work with the city.
City staff originally recommended denial of Crites’ request for a wetland hardship variance when he went before the Planning Commission in April, contending that he could build around the small wetland area. Staff generally agreed with Crites, though, that his project would “not be detrimental to public improvements or adjacent private property.”
“I’ve heard you guys loud and clear,” Crites told the city commissioners Tuesday. “My intention (was) to accommodate the city from the get-go of this project almost three years ago. I continue to intend to do so.”
When new construction surrounds or encroaches on wetlands in some locations in Warrenton and Hammond, the new houses set on man-made elevations higher than their neighbors risk displacing water and sending it next door. In April, a family in Hammond told city commissioners about flooding around their house that began when the owner of the neighboring property subdivided his lot and raised the elevation.
On Tuesday, city commissioners asked what needed to change to get the project to “yes.”
“I want housing in Warrenton, but I do not want quality of life to go down,” Commissioner Rick Newton said. “And if it floods these other houses, I can’t say that makes the quality of life any better.”
The commission voted to deny the Agers’ appeal and approve Crites’ application, which comes with some conditions from the Planning Commission. City commissioners also added one condition of their own: That Crites stick to the neighborhood’s “common elevation.” Whatever he builds will be on the same level as everyone else.