Dear Albie gets flooded

Columnist : Albert Paschall

by Albert Paschall,
Senior Commentator, Lincoln Institute

Using my vast knowledge of local zoning, which with a dollar will get you a cup of coffee at your local convenience store I try to answer my reader’s mail. Every now and then I like to publish some of them to help all of my readers stay in touch. Today I thought I’d select a few from the bin on one of the state’s most fluid issues: flood water.

Dear Albie:

Housing prices in my township are soaring. Since ours is one of the oldest homes there’s a couple ways we could make a bundle. The one I like best is to tear down our existing home, construct three new homes and sell two of them. My wife is very skeptical can you help me encourage her?

D.R. Chester County

Dear D.R.

I wouldn’t call the wrecking ball just yet for a couple of good reasons. The first is that you might anger your wife and the second is it will definitely make her angry if you end up homeless. The first thing to do is stop by the township building and ask who is in charge of something called code enforcement. Whoever is might mention something called impervious coverage. To you and me that’s paving and how much of your ground can be covered. This is to avoid turning your neighbor’s yard into a swamp. My guess is you’ll find your home is fine just the way it is.

Dear Albie:

We’ve lived in our township for many years. It has exploded with housing in the last 20 years. Uphill from our house a builder is constructing 35 luxury homes and a huge pond at the end of it, right up from our yard. I was thinking of asking him to stock it with trout during the season. Do you think he might?

L.H. Dauphin County

Dear L.H.:

Probably not a good idea unless you like dead fish. Without a more detailed description I can’t be sure but my guess is that it is a retention pond or detention basin and it’s designed with the theory that rain water will slowly trickle out of it. Being downhill you really want to be sure he builds this right. If not you might be able to stock your basement with the trout from the runoff of the basin. See previous letter, you might want to invite your code enforcement officer over for coffee and a little walk around the pond.

Dear Albie:

We live behind a busy highway and last year the neighboring township allowed a giant box store to be built. Nobody in our neighborhood paid attention to it until it rained hard last summer. My neighbor says we are in its flood plain, whatever that is. What I know is that when it rains hard you could swim in our back yard. My neighbors say we ought to sue the store and the township for approving it. Do you think we’ll win a lot of money?

K.B. Lancaster County

Dear K.B.

I think the chances of winning are better buying a state lottery ticket. All over the eastern, southern and western boundaries of this state flood water management is the hottest topic in local government and nobody is winning the battle. The suit you describe means years of engineers and lawyers. Pennsylvania zoning exists in vacuums in too many places. The development in one township often can destroy property in another from poor storm water management. Someday if the townships don’t band together to manage it the fear is that the state or the county will take over their zoning authorities. I’m not sure they’d do a much better job but for tens of thousands of Pennsylvania homeowners something must be done.

Albert Paschall
Senior Fellow
The Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research, Inc.