BEAUFORT — Walt Disney once said, “We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”
Such is the case as well with East Carolina Community Development Inc. (ECCDI). For the non-profit that develops affordable housing, curiosity resulted in a first-of-its-kind affordable housing development in eastern North Carolina that incorporates an enhanced stormwater management plan and a rainwater collection system. New paths, so to speak.
Going down that path earned the company a 2012 Pelican Award from the N.C. Coastal Federation, which gives out the annual awards to recognize exemplary efforts to protect and preserve the coastal environment.
Mark McCloskey, vice president for planning and development for the company, said he was introduced to low-impact development, or LID, at a federation workshop in 2006. He started working for ECCDI that year and since then has assisted with the development of nine multi-family developments in Onslow and Carteret counties.
McCloskey is typically involved in a wide range of activities from land acquisition to conceptual layout and permitting. He also serves as a liaison for architects and engineers. He has helped develop 478 units of affordable housing, some of which are for low- and moderate-income elderly tenants and others for low- and moderate-income families. Glenstal in Jacksonville is one of the elderly housing developments.
“Glenstal Apartments is really our first development that we made a concerted effort to incorporate green components,” McCloskey said. “I became interested in LID and rainwater harvesting through attending a variety of workshops, mostly hosted by or somewhat related to NCCF or N.C. Sea Grant and N.C. State, and became curious to see if these were features that could be integrated into the construction of affordable housing.”
The 56-unit affordable housing complex for residents 55 and older was completed December 2011. The aesthetically pleasing development was built and certified to the Energy Star 2.0 standard and incorporates an enhanced or “hybrid” stormwater management plan and rainwater harvesting for use at the community gardens.
McCloskey explained that the stormwater management plan is considered enhanced because it was permitted as a conventional stormwater plan but the LID components went above and beyond what was required. For instance, vegetated depressions, called bio-cells, capture some of the runoff and allow it to soak into the ground.
“Stormwater is conveyed to ponds through a combination of some piping and grassy swales that connect bio-cells, which help treat the water as it passes through,” he said. “One objective was to minimize the amount of piping that would be needed to carry stormwater to the retention pond.”
There is only one run of pipe beneath the parking lot with a bio-cell with a catch basin that drains to the pipe. The stormwater is carried to the pond by swales, bio-cells or other overland flow. McCloskey said the use of the cells rather than pipes in effect decentralizes the stormwater collection and gives more points of treatment and increased storage capacity.
To help with the landscape, McCloskey hired landscape architect Heather Burkert of HBC whom he met at one of the federation workshops. Native plantings were used to the extent possible.
“Basically, instead of spending money on pipes, we spent money on planting,” he said. “We had over 2,500 plantings on this project when we would usually only have between four and five hundred.”
The non-profit received a small grant for the rainwater harvesting which consists of two 1,100-gallon cisterns that collect 30 percent of the rainwater from the clubhouse roof. The water is used to irrigate the nine raised garden beds in which residents can plant vegetables and flowers. Each of the beds is 24 inches high to make them handicap-accessible and easy on the back. The harvested rainwater can also be used for power washing as needed. McCloskey said Mitch Woodard from N.C. State University was instrumental in the design and construction of the rainwater collection system.
Some of the challenges in doing this type of development were the soils and shallow, seasonally high water table, McCloskey said, but the results were worth the extra effort.
“We worked around them in order to design a hybrid LID system,” he said. “It is very rewarding just to know that we were able to incorporate these additional features into the development of an affordable housing development and that for the most part they enhance the overall livability of the community.”
He adds that while the use of the stormwater management system wasn’t a requirement, they were interested in seeing if it was feasible. “We also wanted to determine if using just LID could actually help reduce costs typically associated with conventional stormwater management infrastructure,” he said. “Unfortunately, since we ended up using a combination of LID and conventional systems we were not able to realize a significant savings. We were however, determined to at least include some LID if for no other reason just the aesthetics and for good stewardship of the land. I think the final product speaks for itself on both accounts.”