City drainage problems delay development

Staff reporter

Hillsboro developer Pat Nuss just wants to dig a basement and move a house to West Winds housing addition.

Unfortunately, some residents in the addition and surrounding area aren't so thrilled. They told Hillsboro City Council April 15 that this change in the terrain will cause more flooding to an area that already becomes saturated after rain storms.

According to a letter that Nuss wrote to the council and city administrator Larry Paine, the conflict began March 31 when Nuss' concrete contractor went to city hall to have his work checked by building inspector Ben Steketee. The contractor was told that he could not obtain a building permit because of drainage issues.

Nuss claims, through her letter, that the city had neglected the addition regarding street lights and maintenance, which also included snow removal.

A check with the Marion County Appraiser's office indicates that Nuss owns 10 lots in the West A subdivision.

After the meeting, Nuss said the house, located at 408 S. Main, Hillsboro, will be owned and occupied by Nuss and her husband.

Nuss said she acquired the housing subdivision, platted as West A Addition, several years ago when the original developer stepped away from the project.

Before Nuss purchased the property, one new house was built in the subdivision which was sold. Three more then were built and sold. A fifth lot had a basement dug without a house being completed. That lot and basement then were sold and a house was constructed.

At one time there were restrictive covenants, Nuss said, but they no longer are valid.

"The tax valuation of the seven houses out there total $750,000," Nuss said, "which is significant, not just for Hillsboro but for the county."

Nuss said she bought the lots specifically for development and now is surprised there is this glitch that is preventing her from doing so.

Her deadline is August to move her house from Main Street to the west end of town.

"It takes time and money to do all this," Nuss said. "The basement needs to set for at least four weeks before the house can be set on it."

Moving a house, even just a few blocks, is no small fete. Utility companies have to be notified to make arrangements for lines to be moved. And then when the house arrives at its destination, Nuss plans to have new plumbing, wiring, and air conditioning and heating system installed.

So, why this house?

This house has a lot of sentimental value to Nuss. It's one she spent time in as a teen and brings joy to her to live in it. She and husband Lee have remodeled the Main Street house in preparation of making it their home in West Winds Addition.

The Main Street lots then will be purchased by the neighbor to the north for an expanded yard and garden.

Nuss is no stranger to development and real estate. She has been in the business for 20 years, eight of those years in Hillsboro.

In these past 20 years, selling hundreds of homes in the Hillsboro area, has she ever encountered anything like this before?

"No, I've never had an issue like this before," Nuss said.

One of the attractions of the subdivision is the location on the outskirts of the city. Curb, gutter, and a hard-surfaced street are not priorities to Nuss as a developer or resident.

"There's a rural feel to this area and I would like to see that maintained," she said.

At the recent council meeting, Paine told the council that Nuss had a right to develop her property to the standards of the city's subdivision ordinance.

City officials had been approached by some of the neighbors in and near West Winds Addition regarding their concerns about more drainage problems if another property was developed.

The matter then was presented to the council for direction and consideration.

Paine told the council at the recent meeting that city consulting engineer Bob Privatera examined the property. Paine said the initial impression was to review the situation.

Paine continued that there are two competing issues — the property owner's right to develop her property and any adverse affects of development to other property owners in the area.

Another point of contention is a utility easement between Nuss' property and one of the property owners who is complaining.

Currently a linked chain hangs across that easement and there is tilled ground that may be used as a garden. Paine explained that the city and other utility companies could enter that utility easement at any given time as needed to repair or replace equipment, without acquiring the owner's permission.

"Any structures have to be removable for access," Paine said, and used the example of a fence not being allowed in the easement.

When asked if a utility easement could be used as a drainage easement, Paine said a utility easement was not designed to be used to dispose storm water because the sewer system also is located there and drainage could cause infiltration in the sewer system.

Paine said he was concerned about property rights and at some point a building permit will be issued to allow the house to be moved but the city needed to determine the criteria for the development.

Privatera said his general observation was the city could do minor "re-grading" on the easement. When asked if curb and gutter could help drainage, Privatera responded it could but would have to be gravity drainage.

Some property owners had suggestions for the engineer of how to direct the flow of water.

One suggestion was made to put in curb and gutter and leave the streets sand.

Paine explained that drainage changes in one part of town could cause a "domino" effect which could cause drainage problems in other parts of the city.

Councilman Bob Watson said he has lived in the area for 20 years and recognizes that the addition was not properly platted to allow for drainage.

"A lot of water runs through there. If we could do it all over again we'd do it differently," he said.

The council instructed Privatera to provide a preliminary drainage plan to the city which Privatera said he could complete in four to six weeks.

"Developing the plan is the easy part. The hard part is paying for it," Watson said.

Mayor Delores Dalke reviewed a copy of the minutes from the council meeting when the particulars were discussed regarding the addition. Improvements could be charged to property owners after five years of development or when housing was completed. The property was developed in 1976.

Dalke commented that special assessments in West Winds also could include assessments to property owners on Floral Drive because they would benefit from the improvement.

Later in the meeting, councilman Byron McCarty asked what amount of water a structure could cause? Privatera said the issue is more complex than just one house. McCarty said he was concerned about the time frame Nuss has to move the house and didn't want to see her "lose the opportunity."

Paine said Nuss had a right to put a house in the addition but he didn't want to exacerbate the problem.

"When resolved we will feel better about the development," he said.

The next time it rains, Paine said he and other city personnel will observe the water flow.

Dalke made the observation that several of the city's "street" projects actually were drainage problems that were corrected with new streets.

"We have to think about more than just the one project," she said.

Paine said the city needed to develop a capital improvement plan and strategize all drainage problems which would require some thought and consideration.

"We don't have enough money to fix all of the problems that I know about," he said.