Can zoning improve storm water management?

Zoning changes would mean less building space and more pervious surfaces

A diagram of the proposed changes on a hypothetical lot.
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A diagram of the proposed changes on a hypothetical lot.

Bayonne will try to better manage storm water runoff by modifying zoning ordinances to limit nonporous surfaces in new construction.

This means more absorbent surfaces and less building space. The increase in green infrastructure or water absorbent pavement will reportedly take in storm water and prevent flooding and the spilling of untreated water into local waterways, known as a Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO).

The proposed changes to zoning ordinances were presented to the planning board by special development counsel Joseph DeMarco at the Dec. 8 meeting. The zoning changes will be presented to the Zoning Board at the Dec. 21 meeting. Following that, the changes will be presented to the city council, which will likely vote next year on a zoning ordinance containing the changes.

Limiting lot coverage

The proposed zoning restrictions are in line with Combined Sewage Overflow (CSO) requirements, as well as the state’s Long Term Control Plan.

Currently, some zones have no restrictions on a building’s lot coverage, including the R-1 Single Family Residential District, the R-3 and R-M Medium Density Residential Districts, the ORS Office-Retail Service District, the IL-A and IL-B Light Industrial Districts, and I-Heavy Industrial District.

Some zones have maximum lot coverage restrictions, ranging from 80 to 95 percent. The I-H-O Specialized Heavy Industrial District is restricted to a maximum lot coverage of 95 percent. The R-2 Detached-Attached Residential District is limited to 90 percent. The WR Planned Waterfront Recreation District, the Central Business District, and the Uptown Business District are all restricted to 80 percent maximum lot coverage.

Under the proposed changes, all districts would be limited to 70 percent maximum lot coverage, except for industrial districts. All industrial districts would be restricted to 80 percent maximum lot coverage.

The board could grant variances to developers for 100 percent maximum lot coverage if there are absorbent surfaces or other means to limit storm water runoff. DeMarco said the zoning changes would encourage greener development.

Dealing with CSOs

The goal of the zoning changes is not to make a bad situation worse, DeMarco said.

Amid the development boom, the city has been dealing with the decades-long issue of storm water runoff. Bayonne has a combined sewer system. The 18th century system transports sewage, industrial wastewater, and storm water.

During heavy storms, snow or rain flows into the combined sewers. The higher-than-average flow of storm water overwhelms the capacity of treatment plants, causing storm water and unfiltered sewage and wastewater to flow into local waterways.

This impacts water quality. Sewers that are overwhelmed and backed up can also cause flooding.

Currently, water runs off non-porous surfaces instead of being absorbed into the earth where it would naturally filter into surrounding waterways and into underground sewers. Under the proposed changes, with maximum lot coverage decreasing for new buildings, there will be more surfaces that can absorb storm water in hopes of curtailing runoff and preventing CSOs.

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com.