Sunday, Apr 14th

Changing the Paradigm: Let's Seek Innovative Solutions for Stormwater Management in Scarsdale

George Field(This is the opinion of Scarsdale10583 site founder Joanne Wallenstein)
Sitting in Village Hall for too many nights this month I heard repeated stories from residents about water woes in their homes and streets. Pooling, flooding and wet basements are common. A woman who lives near the library said, “We all have our sump pumps running 24/7. We have to get new pumps every two years as they burn out.” She has asked the Village to inspect the flooded street in front of her house repeatedly to no avail.

Another resident, who lives next to the Crossway firehouse explained that he is downstream from a rollicking waterflow. Every time it rains the catch basin on the Village owned property next to his house overflows onto his driveway. When he calls the Village for help, no one comes. He fears that if more homes are built upstream it will pose a real risk to his property.

A young woman who purchased a new house reports that when it rains she can’t sleep at night. Why? Because she has to be at the ready to put out sandbags to block water from infiltrating her basement.

These reports come from residents at land use board meetings in response to applications to build more homes, driveways and garages in their neighborhoods. The applicants accompanied by their lawyers, architects, landscaping experts and engineers come before the board to seek variances to build in the 25 foot flood plain buffer, or even to build in the FEMA flood plain. This week, the engineer representing the applicants who wanted to build in the FEMA flood plain was asked to explain why he proposed building the driveway in the floodplain – and he shrugged off concerns saying, “It will only accumulate about 6 inches of water in a 25-year storm.”

For that project, the property owners purchased an undeveloped lot in a FEMA flood plain. Were they aware of the building restrictions at the time of purchase? They seemed surprised by the resistance to their plans from the neighbors and the Planning Board. In fact the applicants said, “the Village engineer has been so helpful to us and spent hours trying to come up with a plan.”

Similar praise for help from the Village Engineering Department came from a developer who is attempting to build on an undeveloped wet lot over a watercourse that was formerly a pond in East Heathcote. Apparently the Village helped the applicant design a plan to reroute the watercourse off this property and into the Village right of way. As the lot in question currently serves as a drainage area for both upstream and downstream neighbors they are understandably alarmed by the river coming their way.


Putting aside the specifics of each project, a few things are now clear:

-Scarsdale has many wet areas, where the water table is too high to build.

-The more we build, the more we flood.

-Our land use boards are spending countless hours reviewing individual applications that usually add more stress to our environment.

Perhaps it’s time to turn this problem around. Instead of battling with builders to prevent the flooding from getting worse, how about seeking pro-active solutions to deal with rising water levels?

Here are a few ideas:

In order to protect the property of current homeowners let’s refocus our energy on designing innovative stormwater management projects that will channel rising water in the right direction.

Let’s empower Village personnel to redirect their energies from assisting builders in getting around Village code to finding solutions for current residents who are suffering the twin problems of rising water and climate change. Ask staff to analyze water issues and maps, research possible solutions, design projects and seek grants for stormwater projects that will improve our infrastructure. Task the Engineering and Public Works Departments with designing projects for the public good, rather than assisting those who are causing more issues. Charge Village staff with coming up with solutions that will shield Scarsdale from the ever more frequent 100-year rainstorms.

Explore public private partnerships to turn private land into Village assets. Rather than create a subdivision that will undoubtedly exacerbate flooding, why not work with property owners to create a watercourse and retention pond with timed release waterflows to alleviate flooding both upstream and downstream.

Wetlands Park

For example on Garden Road, developers have proposed to bring in tons of landfill in order to build an eight home subdivision in a wetlands. Flooded neighbors have retained a law firm to bar this project that they fear will cause even more damage to their homes. Why not look into solutions like the creation of a wetlands park on the site with a retention pond and raised walkways so that residents and wildlife can enjoy the environment and neighbors can be shielded from further water flows? The innovative 7 acre retention pond at George Field is the largest pond in Westchester County. Let's continue the good work.

Open Space

To protect our vanishing open spaces, can the Village buy back open lots and use the space to create culverts, swales and pocket parks to increase permeable surfaces?

How about offering residents tax breaks for leaving open lots undeveloped?

Land Use Boards

Can a body such as the Planning Board help to craft solutions to the problems we are experiencing rather than spending night after night negotiating with those who only seek to exacerbate the issues? Certainly we have skilled and forward thinking volunteers in Scarsdale who could assist in planning forward thinking stormwater management solutions for the public good.

Ad Hoc Committee

We already have a building moratorium in place as a first step in reconsidering our building code, enforcement and the approval and variance process. To move this forward, the Board of Trustees should consider harnessing the expertise of talented residents by forming a task force on stormwater management. They could help to define and analyze the current water problems, investigate best practices around the country and make a strategic plan for addressing a complex issue that will be with us in the years to come.

Let’s take positive steps to control the water, protect existing homes and to create open spaces and recreational areas that are a part of the solution. Just as Scarsdale is a leader in education, we can be at the forefront of environmental management and design model stormwater infrastructure projects.

We all know why people want to live in Scarsdale, but unless we fix what's wrong and develop strong ordinances to protect the environment and deal with climate change the town will no longer be what we've made it.

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