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My gravel driveway: A follow up story

Marc Lefkowitz  |  04/05/19 @ 2:00pm  |  Posted in Clean water, Home landscaping

Ten years ago, we succeeded in convincing the city to let us replace a broken asphalt driveway—broken because it was growing over the tree root of a 75 to 100 foot tall white oak tree—with a new, well-constructed gravel driveway.

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I applied to my city for a variance because gravel driveways, once the norm, are not allowed by law. I wrote about the whole process in this blog post.

In seeking a variance, I found a specification from the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) for how the agency builds its gravel driveways and roads and shared it with the Board of Review and my contractor. It has the proper construction to support emergency vehicles. My contractor also followed the ODOT specification in using the proper roller. He admittedly did a good job with the sub-base construction and selecting the type and amount of gravel to minimize loss. My question is, would our experience dispel the fear of gravel drives? For a decade of owning a new gravel drive, we have not had loss sufficient to outweigh the positives including greater stormwater filtration, cooler surface temperatures, and affordability.

I have been asked a lot of questions about gravel driveways by interested parties over the years. People usually ask about the city’s restriction. I tell them that it is based on an assumption that gravel enters into sewer catch basins at a level that causes concern for their function or costs the city money in cleaning them.

Meanwhile, the city has adapted a road paving method known as “chip and seal.” As a less expensive method for road repair, it involves the spreading of loose asphalt as a top layer and following up with a seal coat layer. In observing this practice used on our street last summer, I noticed there was a lag time between the loose ‘gravel’ and the seal coating. It led me to wonder, how much of this loose asphalt is entering into waterways and clogging sewer catch basins? Magnify that across the area of the roadways and across the city, and it nullifies the argument that gravel driveways are the problem they were made out to be.

Since the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District has taken on the monumental task of reducing polluted stormwater from entering streams and rivers, it has introduced a fee for conveyance over land. To date, gravel is not available as an option for reducing that impervious surface fee. If my city adopts gravel as an approved surface, the Sewer District may change its mind. Gravel not only has superior performance on permeability, our gravel driveway was about one-third of the cost of concrete. Gravel is almost certainly more affordable than the permeable pavers that are allowed by city and the Sewer District. I know a property owner who spent $12,000 for a permeable paver drive. Ours cost around $6,000. What can cities do to encourage homeowners to green their onsite stormwater management and be aware of the equity concerns that run through city and the Sewer District’s sustainability initiatives?

In my ten-year observation, a well-constructed gravel driveway presents a second more equitable option. It meets the standard used by governments, and it may help the Sewer District realize an expansion of property owners adopting sustainable practices to meet their impervious surface goals, which are really aligned with the region, state and national goals to protect Lake Erie and its tributaries.

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