The Charlottesville City Council has upheld a determination by city staff that the developers of Stonefield in Albemarle County violated an erosion control permit by opening up a new stormwater pipe before certain conditions were met.
“I think staff’s determination is appropriate and that they have not followed through the plan and conditions of the permit,” Mayor Satyendra Huja said.
The managing director of Edens, the developer of Stonefield, said he was disappointed in the council’s unanimous decision.
“We’re dying to deliver this first-class project,” Steve Boyle said. “We’ve got tons of people that are waiting for new jobs here.”
The city issued a violation notice on June 1 and Edens made an appeal. The City Council began its review of the appeal shortly before 11 p.m. on Monday near the end of a busy meeting.
“Stonefield is a project in Albemarle County on the west side of U.S. 29,” said Jim Tolbert, the city’s director of neighborhood development services. “The drainage outfall for that project, however, comes into the city on the east side of U.S. 29 and drains into Meadow Creek.”
That meant Edens had to obtain an erosion and sediment control permit from the city because land within Charlottesville would be disturbed as a result of Stonefield’s development.
Before bulldozers began clearing land for Stonefield, all the rain that fell on the 65-acre property drained slowly through a 42-inch pipe under U.S. 29, designed to reduce the water’s velocity. That pipe also carried water from farther west of Stonefield that previously flowed naturally through an unnamed creek.
As part of Stonefield’s stormwater management plan, the creek was routed through a pipe that connects with a new 72-inch pipe that was drilled underneath U.S 29. The 42-inch pipe will primarily carry stormwater that falls on the northern half of Stonefield.
Both pipes eventually flow into a drainage channel on property in Charlottesville owned by Seminole Square, the U.S. Post Office and the Pepsi-Cola facility.
Tolbert said the permit required Edens to keep the 72-inch pipe closed until the drainage channel has rocks known as “riprap” installed to protect it from erosion. That required Edens to get permission from all three property owners, but the company was only able to obtain an easement from the Post Office.
The city has an easement from all three owners to maintain the basin, but that easement only goes to the elevation of 416 feet above sea level. Tolbert said any water that goes higher than that, in a flood, for example, is being illegally placed on private property.
“Flooding will cause the water to rise to 421 feet, which is five feet greater than city-maintained easement,” Tolbert said.
This spring, Edens opened up the 72-inch pipe even though Tolbert did not believe the work was completed.
“Our issue is that the plan clearly shows riprap to be installed on the non-Post Office side in the city on property not owned by [Edens], and that work has not yet been done,” Tolbert said.
“There is a fundamental disagreement as to the interpretation of those plans,” said Paul Kaplan, an attorney representing Edens. He said his clients are not required to install the riprap if they cannot get permission to do so.
“We are happy tomorrow to put as much riprap as anyone wants in that channel,” Kaplan said. “The only thing that stands in our way is that the owner won’t let us do it.”
Frederick W. Payne, an attorney representing Seminole Square, said it is crucial that the riprap be installed per the plans. However, he said his clients are also concerned about being inundated during storms with severe amounts of rainfall.
“The city’s easement, which is where people have the right to put stormwater, is at 416 feet,” Payne said. “They have already shown you that in the 10-year flood, it goes to 421 feet. It goes much higher than that in the more intensive floods.”
In rebuttal, Kaplan suggested Seminole simply wants to undo all of the approvals that have been granted for a neighboring commercial project.
“This was fully, fully vetted,” Kaplan said. “The Department of Conservation and Recreation has said there is not going to be a flood. It is not accurate to say the 416 foot sets the limit for what kind of water can flow through that ravine.”
However, Kaplan said that is a legal question beyond the scope of the City Council. He asked that the council dismiss Tolbert’s determination.
However, the council voted unanimously to uphold the permit.
“It’s really hard for me … to really understand what went wrong, but something did go wrong,” said Councilor Dede Smith.
Boyle said he would have to meet with his attorneys before deciding Edens’ next step in the process. He said there is no flooding issue.
“[Seminole is] asking for things that we think go beyond the scope of putting riprap in on their side, which we’re happy to do,” Boyle said. “Today we heard very clearly that that’s really not what they want. I think we need to understand from them a little bit better what they truly want.”