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To combat flooding, City of Houston's Chief Recovery Office presents an incentive report for green stormwater infrastructure in private development. 

"As Houston has rapidly developed, we have relied on traditional gray infrastructure systems to keep us safe," Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said in a new report. "However, as we build forward, we must consider new and innovative approaches for achieving greater flood resilience in Houston."

The report, commissioned by the City of Houston to investigate ways to incentivize developers to include non-traditional, green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) in their developments, suggests implementing the following programs:

  • Integrated green stormwater infrastructure development rules
  • Property tax abatements
  • Award and recognition programs
  • Increased permitting process certainty and speed

GSI techniques help rainfall in an urban environment behave like it would in an undeveloped, green landscape. These techniques include green roofs, rain gardens, bioretention systems, vegetated filter strips, permeable pavements, rainwater harvesting, urban forests, constructed wetlands, soil amendment practices, and other strategies to manage rainwater on or near the site where the rain falls. A breakdown of a few possible GSI techniques mentioned in the report are laid out below. 

Source: City of Houston's Chief Recovery Office

Source: City of Houston's Chief Recovery Office

According to the report, GSI can help real estate projects realize higher operating income, faster lease-up or sales, higher occupancy, higher amenity values, greater lot or unit yield, “green” marketing benefits, and reduced drainage system costs. At the same time, GSI can improve neighborhood resilience, reduce drainage concerns from small storms, reduce potable water use, reduce urban heat island impacts, improve neighborhood aesthetics, and improve public health.

Interviews with stakeholders revealed, however, that current development rules and design criteria are not conducive to green infrastructure implementation. The report proposes a set of GSI development rules that harmonize parking, landscaping, open space, drainage design, and other requirements.

"For example, under current rules, a project developer might need to provide a minimum number of parking spaces, a certain area of landscaping with a specific number of trees, a minimum volume of detention, and a stormwater treatment device at the end of underground pipe system," the report explains. "Under the envisioned GSI rules the developer might be able to provide a smaller number of parking spaces with a permeable surface and underdrain, a landscaped bioswale with bioretention and trees that would serve to convey and treat stormwater as well as meet open space and landscaping requirements, a smaller volume of detention, a shorter lengths of underground piping, and no end-of-pipe stormwater treatment device."

Developers may also be incentivized to implement GSI if the city delays or reduces their property tax bill. This can be done through an explicit GSI tax abatement or through the city’s existing authority to issue abatements for general economic development reasons. These property tax abatements would most benefit developers planning to build projects with anticipated appraised values sufficient to cover some or all of the anticipated GSI costs.  

Other incentives laid out in the report include assembling design professionals for a team review session to expedite the permitting process for GSI developments, and giving awards and recognition after the completion of the projects. 

"Integration of green stormwater infrastructure into the planning and development of public and private assets needs to become 'business as usual' for all property developers in Houston," the report said. "The incentives would increase the chance of for GSI to become an integral part of how Houston 'builds forward' to address our flooding challenges, while addressing water and air quality, urban heat island effect, and neighborhood beautification."

As for the timing of these incentives to rollout, Laura Patiño, the chief of staff for the Mayor's Recovery Office, said, "The incentives will require extensive stakeholder engagement before rollout. Some of these have a more flexible timeframe as they require more time for consensus building. Others like the recognition program are a lot easier to implement therefore will take less time." According to the report, all of the incentives will be rolled out by early 2022. 

To read the timeline of the incentives and the city report as a whole, download the document below.