Peter Yacobellis
Peter Yacobellis (FILE PHOTO)

By PETER YACOBELLIS
Special to Montclair Local 

Given the exacerbation of storms by climate change and increased development over the last 50 years absent good federal, state or local stormwater management policy, Montclair, like nearly everywhere else, has significant opportunity to course correct.

While we did recently implement a revised stormwater ordinance per state requirements, it was only a first step.

In December 2020, the Montclair Township Planning Board undertook an effort to update the Stormwater Management Element of the Township Master Plan, which had previously been updated in 2005. The board scheduled a public hearing to review the revised SWM Element and published notice of the hearing in the Dec. 3, 2020, edition of the Montclair Times as legally required. At the hearing on Dec. 14, 2020, the Board reviewed the updated Stormwater Management Plan Element, prepared by the township’s planning department, with input from the board engineer, recommendations from the Montclair Township Environmental Commission and input from the public. The board adopted the new element and memorialized the decision by resolution on Jan. 11, 2021. Of the approving resolution, Item 2 notes that “The Board recommends to the Township Council that the proposed ordinances be adopted in their entirety.”

I concur with their recommendations and opine on some specifics as follows:

Impervious coverage in all zones ordinance modifications

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We should consider adopting maximum impervious surface standards for all zones. Under the current zoning ordinance, maximum impervious area is specified for only a handful of zones. Implementation of an impervious coverage or total lot coverage standard (typically a percentage of the lot area) in all zone districts would mitigate runoff downslope. Such a standard would also promote installation of pervious surfaces or a trading approach, such as reduction of a patio or driveway area in exchange for a new swimming pool installation, for example.

This is particularly important in residential zone districts (particularly the R-1) as they comprise most the township’s land area. While these zones do have a limitation on the coverage of a principal building (which applies only to the main principal dwelling), other accessory uses are not included. There is a limitation on the amount of rear yard that can be occupied by some accessory buildings (sheds, detached garages, anything with a roof and wall); however other impervious features such as sports courts, swimming pools, large patios and parking areas can all be installed without any limitation under the current zoning code. 

Off-street parking and loading ordinance modification

We should modify Article XVII, Off-Street Parking and Loading, Section 347-102, Design of Parking Spaces and Access. Under the current zoning ordinance, parking areas and spaces are required to be paved with a hard surface paving. An exception is allowed for single and two-family dwellings that may have gravel driveways. The Planning Board has recommended that this section be revised to allow for permeable or porous pavement in all zones. It is further recommended under the Stormwater Management Plan that the exception permitting use of gravel be rescinded. Gravel washes into the roadway and catch basins, obstructing flow and contributing to localized flooding. 

Flood damage prevention ordinance

The provisions of Chapter 164 — Flood Damage Prevention of the Montclair Code should be reviewed and determined to be, in fact, operationally enforced. The township has a number of special flood hazard areas and development activity that, according to this Chapter, should be reviewed by the designated administrator, the township engineer. 

It remains unclear whether properties located within special flood hazard areas have been identified and noted in our building department records to ensure a review is completed. I suggest we require applicants to provide information in their permit filing as to the flood hazard location of the property on submission.

This flood damage prevention ordinance should be evaluated to ensure this administrative process is being followed and implemented to protect both new construction/investment but also adjacent existing properties during flood events. 

Stormwater utility

The 2019 Clean Stormwater and Flood Reduction Act enabled Montclair and other municipalities to create stormwater utilities that could be used to assess taxes proportional taxes relative to the total impervious area of a specific property, including parking lots, driveways and building roofs that are impermeable to stormwater runoff. The revenues from such a tax could then be used to improve stormwater infrastructure, including increasing the size and capacity of our many outdated culverts. This could provide some relief to flood-prone areas in light of what we’ve seen in Montclair in terms of both precipitation pattern changes and significant development over the last decades. I’ve suggested to my colleagues that a working group comprising township engineers with the planning department, the Planning Board and perhaps the Environmental Commission collaborate on a recommendation for the Township Council.

I’ve socialized my thinking on this subject matter with my colleagues in hopes we can start to advance some of these pieces. We must make sure not to let apathy take hold. Dangerous flooding can happen at any time, and we must be focused on how we adapt as a town, county, state, country, and planet. It starts with the actions of individuals and municipalities in concert with those of the larger institutions mentioned. My thanks to our Planning Board for the significant work they have done and the recommendations they have made. 

Peter Yacobellis is Montclair Township councilman at large.


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