Department of Environmental Protection officials did the right thing last week, bowing to a flurry of concerned letters by allowing significantly more time for stakeholders to review their sweeping update of stormwater, flooding and wetlands regulations.

Real estate trade groups like NAIOP-MA, the Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Massachusetts, associations for municipal officials and wetlands scientists and even some environmental activists appealed for more time to study MassDEP’s rewrite of its 800-page stormwater-management guidelines, wetlands regulations and rules governing building in areas at risk of coastal flooding from storms and sea level rise.

The scale of the changes is just too great to analyze in the 60 days originally set aside for comment, the groups said. It’s a measure of just how complex the changes are – some of which update aspects of stormwater management not touched since the 1960s – that MassDEP officials said the comment period, which now closes April 30, is now the longest on record.

While the package of changes will ban new development on around 10 percent of the state’s shoreline, two different areas may turn out to contain the biggest threats to housing production once more analysis is done: new wetlands rules and updates to how stormwater is managed.

Determining that impact will be complicated, in part because it’s indisputable that housing developments face rapidly increasing threats from coastal and stormwater flooding, necessitating more costly, on-site infrastructure to appease insurers and lenders – just look at the damage from storms in Leominster last year. MassDEP officials say this massive package of updates is only intended to mitigate risks that already exist today.

And the regulations do offer credits to developers who use sometimes-cheaper “green,” nature-based flood and stormwater defenses like trees and buffer zones instead of “grey” tools based on cement, like detention basins. They also exempt one- to four-unit buildings from many requirements while still leaving them eligible for assistance and credit programs intended to help larger developments build flood protections.

We eagerly await the results of technical analysis by NAIOP-MA, HBRAMA and other real estate groups. There’s already some fear that complying with the new regulations, as written today, will keep certain sites from penciling out through either the cost of new infrastructure or making enough of a site undevelopable. It’s concerning that MassDEP officials told Banker & Tradesman they did not specifically investigate their proposal’s impact on housing production across the state, to make sure they were balancing the state’s need to protect against climate change and its need to produce housing far more cheaply than it does today.

Yes, we all deserve to be protected against climate change flooding. Yes, coping with the increasing power of storms will require expensive new or expanded infrastructure. And yes, some sites should become off-limits to new developments because of the basic limitations of today’s construction materials and techniques in the face of storm surges and flash floods.

But every state and local agency that touches the built environment must keep maximizing housing production top of mind at all times. After all, what use are legal and regulatory protections to someone who can only afford to sleep in their car under a bridge?

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Flooding Regs Generate Developers’ Concerns

by Banker & Tradesman time to read: 2 min