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Who will (and won't) pay for their water-polluting lots

Marc Lefkowitz  |  04/28/16 @ 9:00am  |  Posted in Clean water

In late 2015, the Ohio Supreme Court sided with the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District and re-instated its Stormwater Management Program. NEORSD will soon start charging fees to property owners based on how much hard or paved surface they build.

Stormwater can make pollution and damage from water flooding off pavement and rooftops into rivers, streams and Lake Erie worse.

The Court acknowledged the District’s transparency in digitizing every property in its territory, NEORSD Deputy Director of Watershed Programs, Kyle Dreyfuss-Wells noted at the recent Water Resilient Cities conference.

The digital map is online, and shows how much—before any dispensation or credits such as rain gardens—of the fees that will flow into the District’s coffers.

A city unto itself<br />SouthPark Mall in Strongsville will get a free pass on thousands in stormwater fees (that other mall owners would surely covet).<br />Arcelor Mittal will pay one of the largest stormwater fees in Northeast Ohio unless it brings in a green infrastructure solution.<br />Eaton Corporation will pay $6,000 more per quarter than its former headquarters for stormwater running off its new campus.Tip of the iceberg<br />The Cleveland Clinic will pay tens of thousands of dollars for its stormwater runoff unless it stops building so much parking and starts aggressively pursuing green infrastructure. Here is the south east corner of the Clinic main campus.<br />When Severance Town Center comes out of receivership perhaps its new owners can figure out how to reduce their $10,000 a quarter stormwater fee with a green town center.<br />RTA will pay thousands in stormwater fees for its E 55 rail yard.
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Curious, we looked at some of the properties—the kind that you can easily pick out from a satellite image—and snooped at what they’ll have to shell out on a quarterly basis for their profligate parking lots and acres of operation centers.

The Malls—As expected, shopping malls and big box centers will take a big hit for paving for the 100-year shopping event. Beachwood Place Mall is scheduled to pay $5,222 a quarter. Severance Town Center in Cleveland Heights, already in bankruptcy, is expected to cough up $10,895 every three months! How about wealthy and thriving SouthPark Mall in Strongsville? Wait for it...$0. Wha? The City of Strongsville is inside the NEORSD territory, but its twenty year old mall with 1.2 million square feet of retail and a parking lot that is breathtaking to behold is not.

Strongsville is a member of the Sewer District but not all of the community is in our service area, Dreyfuss-Wells confirms. The portion of the City containing the Mall is not in our service area and thus will not have a stormwater fee.

Corporate campuses—What about the Fortune 500 companies who built their drive-only campuses? Progressive Insurance will pay $2,726 for its main campus alone. Eaton Corporation should pay $6,852 every three months for their new campus in the Chagrin Highlands. By contrast, their former headquarters, the office tower at E. 12th and Superior Avenue, will pay $216.

Hospitals—The Cleveland Clinic: it’s hard to even begin calculating the stormwater fee here, but just the block it owns from E. 100th to E. 105th and Carnegie and Euclid will cost The Clinic $2,926. The hospitals’ suburban campuses will balloon that tally. The Clinic’s office park at Rockside Road in Independence will add another $3,854. University Hospitals will pay $3,290 a quarter for the privilege of building its Ahuja campus at Harvard and I-271.

Industrial sites—The big eye opener is Arcelor Mittal Steel’s operation along the east bank of the Cuyahoga River. The company is expected to pay $21,560 a quarter. Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority’s big rail yard at E. 55th Street will cost the agency $4,706 to manage the stormwater.

Parking craters—The fee doesn’t take into account the strategic importance or the underlying land value, just the size. The dreaded surface lot between Public Square and the Warehouse District will only pay $448. But, Cleveland State University should be pleased it got a jump on redeveloping surface lots with apartments and mixed-use buildings. The university might wish it hadn't been so hasty in ripping out the green roof on its recreation center - it would have reduced its fee. Also, the huge surface lot CSU owns between Payne and Chester at E. 23rd (which is the future site of a charter school) will be charged $1,857.

The Sewer District is trying to help property owners get out in front of their stormwater run off—and it offers credits for installing green infrastructure.

Also, most shopping malls and parking lots have existing stormwater control measures such as detention or retention ponds, Dreyfuss-Wells says. They can get credit for these practices against their fee through the District stormwater fee credits.

The best move, though, to avoid a lifetime of fees would be to minimize the footprint of a property, build up and in greater density, and then add green infrastructure such as green roofs and rain gardens.

Severance, Randall Park, Euclid Square, Parmatown and other struggling malls might start taking apart unused asphalt parking lots and plant rain gardens.

Finally, an incentive to not pave and use up more property than needed—to build up not out.

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John at NEORSD
10 months ago

Jim, Severance Center may be eligible for either the Quality or Quantity Credit based upon the amount of stormwater that is captured and/or treated by the basin you mention. The Quantity and Quality credits are designed for Non-Single Family Residential (NSFR) property owners. To receive this credit NSFR properties must show much water is being captured and/or treated through engineered plans.

Jim Miller
11 months ago

I think that Severance Center actually has a large retention basin area, near the Cleveland Heights City Hall, that dates back decades. I have never seen any official maps or documents about it, but I have explored it a bit on foot. It looks as if stormwater, at least from the north half of the shopping mall area, heads in there. Could be wrong.

Marc
11 months ago

NEORSD has provided additional information about the public agency questions. They say: Public agencies are not exempt. The only exemption is for rights of ways and non-self supporting municipal entities such as police, fire/EMS and city hall (those city owned properties that don't bring in money). Public Schools can receive the same credits for controlling quantity and quality of stormwater as other non-residential sites, i.e. keeping 100% on site will get 100% credit (on a sliding scale depending on how much is being controlled). Plus, schools can get a 25% credit for introducing a stormwater education program in the classroom.

On the question of RTA E. 55th rail yard. The actual rail road is part of the rights of way exemption. But a station and rapid terminal gets a fee. Also, airport runways don't get a fee, but the terminal does. Roads in private developments, the HOA would get charged a fee.

With ODOT, the public rights of way have no fees, but facilities that ODOT owns, like salt depots, do.

David Beach
11 months ago

Good question from Josh. The Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District's stormwater program does not cover the whole metro area, so it's possible that it will create an incentive for businesses with large amounts of impervious surface to move to rural areas. A similar unintended consequence happens with air quality, as some companies have an easier time siting new polluting facilities outside of areas that already have poor air quality. But the stormwater fee is relatively small, so I doubt it will outweigh other location factors for most businesses.

The best way to reduce such unintended consequences is to have uniform implementation of stormwater fees throughout the entire region. Lake County has had such fees for a long time. So maybe it's time for the rest of the region to be more responsible about funding programs to deal with the serious problem of stormwater runoff.

susan
11 months ago

what constitutes a public agency? Cleveland Heights City Hall and Cumberland Park seem to be accruing costs. just curious. and Oakwood Commons - 0 ERU $0???

Marc
11 months ago

Josh raises a good point. But, would a relatively small stormwater fee alone be enough for a company to choose its location? Or are roads and infrastructure, large lot / exclusionary zoning, relative distance to the CEO's house, tax policies that favor unincorporated townships and cheap gas more prevailing factors?

Josh
11 months ago

My question is will rural areas be faced with the same stormwater fees? I could foresee this encouraging urban sprawl in the long run as businesses seek to build their large parking lots outside of stormwater districts that charge such fees.

Marc
11 months ago

ODOT and public agencies are exempt from the stormwater program, but could you imagine how it would change the world if state DOTs were required to pay for the air and water pollution caused by roads.

Max
11 months ago

Does ODOT get a bill for the massive amount of road build up through out the region? They have by far the largest paved footprint.

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