Low impact development regulations must be flexible, NAHB says

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WASHINGTON, DC, Sept. 30, 2010 -- Builders and developers support the goals of low-impact development and believe that federal, state and local land development policies should be flexible and responsive to consumer preferences, according to Bruce Boncke, who testified before Congress today on behalf of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).

Far more important than any regulation is the effort to improve cooperation between local governments, builders and developers, and other stakeholders. "This collaborative approach can serve the industry - and the environment - as we all continue to work toward sustainable development," said Boncke, who is the chief executive officer of BME Associates, an engineering firm based in Rochester, New York.

Boncke testified on low impact development (LID) and green infrastructure in a hearing before the Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

While low impact development is well suited to many projects, it is not appropriate for every site, Boncke said. Low impact development seeks to mitigate the impacts of development on land, water, and the air. Based on the site's unique characteristics, the development plan will integrate site planning with techniques that conserve the existing natural systems and hydrological functions of the site. Because the effectiveness of these techniques depends on the soils, hydrology, and slope of the site, properties that have impermeable soils, high water tables, or steep slopes are not good candidates for LID.

Common LID controls include bioretention devices such as rain gardens, permeable pavers, green roofs, rain catchment devices such as barrels or underground chambers, "reverse slope sidewalks" which drain away from roads into vegetated areas, and many other techniques.

Stormwater management technologies continue to evolve, Boncke said, and there is limited data regarding the effectiveness of most low impact development methods. Developers are less likely to embrace these methods in the absence of tangible evidence that they are effective. Boncke points out that it is difficult to go from fifty years of doing development a certain way and then switch gears overnight. Additionally, the regulations often stand in the way of builders and developers implementing innovative environmental controls. To help counter this, he encourages communities to work collaboratively with all stakeholders. He points to the training sessions that planners go through in New York as an effective way to get everybody on the same page from the outset.

In many cases, regulators are imposing low impact development requirements on urban infill and redevelopment projects, including requirements to reduce imperviousness by as much as 50 percent.

NAHB has long been a leader in green building and green development and was instrumental in the push for the National Green Building Standard (NGBS), the first national consensus green building standard approved by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). NAHB members have been key innovators in the area of low impact development, Boncke said.

"I urge Congress to support regulations, especially in the area of green building, that are flexible enough to allow for adjustments based on a region's unique characteristics - such as the physical properties of the land and the housing needs of the population - and to avoid the pitfalls that come with attempting to implement a style of development that is not possible or appropriate in a particular region," Boncke said.

About NAHB
The National Association of Home Builders is a Washington-based trade association representing more than 175,000 members involved in home building, remodeling, multifamily construction, property management, subcontracting, design, housing finance, building product manufacturing and other aspects of residential and light commercial construction. NAHB is affiliated with 800 state and local home builders associations around the country. NAHB's builder members will construct about 80 percent of the new housing units projected for 2010.

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