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Neighbors fear Van Voorhis development will increase flooding issues

MORGANTOWN — Borderline.

That’s how Morgantown Utility Board Stormwater Senior Engineer Ken Hacker summed up his confidence in existing infrastructure to handle stormwater runoff from La Dolce Vita, a new development coming to 3.4 acres at the corner of Van Voorhis Road and Southview Street.

Cold comfort for the residents of neighboring Heritage Place, who fear existing flooding issues will only get worse once there are 10 homes and a cul-de-sac next door.

An engineer representing developer R&R Holdings said aspects of the design exceed the city’s stormwater standards and will actually improve the situation. An engineer hired by the neighbors said the plan doesn’t hold water.

And in the middle is MUB, which signed off on the development’s stormwater plan, agreeing it should meet the necessary threshold of reducing peak flows by 10% for anything up to a 50-year storm.

But it’s close.

“I would say we’re at the borderline of the capacity for that pipe based on our calculations,” Hacker told members of the Morgantown Planning Commission when pressed on testimony offered by John James, the engineer hired by the concerned neighbors.

After being tabled in July, the matter of major subdivision plat approval was back before the commission last week.

The body unanimously approved the development, but multiple members noted their hands were essentially tied.

“MUB has reviewed it and determined the standards are met, which means the ordinances are met. I don’t know that we necessarily have a choice,” Planning Commission Chair Peter DeMasters said. “Will it do what it’s supposed to do? We don’t know.”

Hacker agreed with the commissioners that the standards used by MUB are spelled out in city code and based on formulas commonly used by the state. He also agreed that the weather experienced today is different than the weather experienced decades ago, when the codes and the infrastructure they govern were installed.

“We’re dealing with a system that’s 100 years old – different climate, different time,” he said.

Ultimately, Commissioner Tim Stranko concluded, reviewing MUB’s stormwater process is not the planning commission’s job, nor is jamming up development over changing weather patterns.

“The underlying uncertainty in all of this is the climate; the magnitude and velocity of the storms that we’re suffering. There are no guarantees,” he said. “I think to stop development because we’ve got a climate that’s changing and perhaps downstream infrastructure that doesn’t match the changing climate is, number one, not appropriate; and number two, not our role.”