Developer-Backed Trust Funds Would Finance Stormwater, Green Space Projects

Jun 8, 2016

Pittsburgh City Council meets the morning of Wednesday, June 8 at the City-County Building downtown.
Credit Matt Nemeth / 90.5 WESA

Two proposed trust funds would allow real estate developers to pay the city of Pittsburgh to build green spaces and stormwater management infrastructure if they’re not able to include those elements on the sites of new projects in Downtown or North Shore.

Pittsburgh City Council approved the creation of an Open Space Trust Fund and a Stormwater Management Trust Fund in two unanimous preliminary votes Wednesday.

Pittsburgh City Planning Director Ray Gastil said for more than a decade, developers have had the option to make a “payment in lieu of compliance” if they can’t include stormwater management mechanisms or open spaces in their new projects. With developers now expressing interest in that option, Gastil said the trust funds would encourage those amenities to be built near the developments, even if they can’t be part of the same project.

“The intention and the goal would be whatever comes in gets spent. It’s not meant to be a kitty,” Gastil said. “This is to find a project, identify the alternative compliance, and get it done.”

He said the developer of the Gardens at Market Square project in Downtown paid the city roughly $17,000 for an exemption from the open spaces requirement in that neighborhood, but without a trust fund, it wasn't immediately clear how that money should be handled.

If developers can’t include stormwater management infrastructure in their projects, Assistant Director of City Planning Andrew Dash said they’ll determine how much it would’ve cost to manage the rainfall on their site and put that money into the stormwater management trust fund.

“And then the city would have to figure out how it can build a system in the same sewer-shed or watershed that can detain the same amount of stormwater,” Dash said.

He said developers could find themselves unable to include stormwater management systems if the site is environmentally contaminated and barred from excavation.

City Councilwoman Deb Gross, a Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority board member, said the trust funds will do more than give developers flexibility – they’ll also let the city decide which sites are best suited for stormwater management infrastructure.

“There are many opportunities where I can imagine this being helpful, where you can find not just that the developer doesn’t want to do it on-site, but there might be a better location for more capture somewhere close by,” Gross said.

The open space and stormwater requirements only apply to new projects in Downtown, North Shore or other areas with special zoning designations.

City Council is scheduled to take a final vote on the creation of the trust funds during Tuesday’s meeting.