Parishioners, officials, neighbors seek solution to problem on church lot
DANVILLE —- A small drainage area that's not draining has become a safety concern for neighbors and members of First United Methodist Church who believe it poses a risk to children in the neighborhood.
The storm water detention area has developed into a small pond on the southwest corner of the church's property at 1400 N. Vermilion St., because it's not draining despite efforts by the church and the city to drain it.
Harsha and Susan Gurujal live on Walnut Street, immediately west of the church, and their back yard is directly across the alley from the pond, which is at least a few feet deep. The Gurujals said they have had to chase kids away from the water, which at times has had ice on top.
On Wednesday night, city officials met with church officials and the Gurujals to try to find a solution to the problem.
"We all agree that what's there doesn't work, and we need to know what the church wants to do," said Mayor Scott Eisenhauer, who was joined by City Engineer David Schnelle, Ward 5 Aldermen Tom Stone and Mike Puhr, and Bill Black, Ward 1 alderman.
The drainage area was built by a private contractor hired by the church, and that work was being performed in response to the city's requirements that the church capture runoff from its newly expanded parking lot.
Harsha Gurujal said they have lived next to the church for more than 20 years, and there's never been a drainage problem, no standing water on their property or the church property.
"I've never had a problem with water, not once," said Gurujal, who attended Wednesday night's meeting.
Schnelle told the group, which included about 16 church members, that federal storm water management regulations are what triggered the need for drainage work. They don't apply to the church building or older portions of the parking lot, he said, because those existed before these regulations.
But the necessary drainage improvements are being made after the parking lot project rather than being designed prior to and executed during the parking lot project. The reason is that the contractor the church hired did not get the required city permits in advance of the parking lot project. So the city was not involved beforehand, and only after the project informed the church that certain improvements were required to handle storm water runoff.
"A lot of this could have been avoided if the contractor had gotten a permit," Eisenhauer said.
Since the parking lot was expanded, the city has been working with the church on what it needs to do to address storm water runoff, and of the various options, the church pursued building a storm water detention area. Some church members claim the city requested that option, but city officials said that was a decision made by the church's private engineer.
Regardless, the drainage area has not drained correctly since it was built. Voluntarily, Eisenhauer said, city crews drilled holes in the bottom of the detention area hoping that would get it to drain, but it hasn't.
And the church has now spent more than $45,000, according to Sanford Jones, one of the church's board members, and is running out of money to do any additional work to either fix the storm water detention area or pursue an entirely new option for meeting storm water runoff regulations.
"We are trying to follow your rules. We are financially strapped here," Jones said. He said the church is planning to go to a part-time minister this year.
Jones said he prefers the detention area be filled back in, and the Gurujals also prefer that.
City officials offered a few solutions, including installing a drain in the detention area that would carry the water to the city's sewer, installing a sump pump that would continually pump the area dry, or converting some of the expanded parking lot back into grass or landscaping, so the government's storm water runoff regulations would no longer apply.
Schnelle said a drain to the city's sewer would probably be the most economical option. Some church members liked the idea of converting some of the parking lot back to landscaping.
Eisenhauer told the church members that city officials would work out the details of the some of the options discussed, taking into consideration what would be the most cost-effective option, and come back and present those options to the church members for them to make a final decision on a fix. Eisenhauer said the city will also consider how "city participation" could be included in the solution.
In the meantime, city and church officials decided to put a snow fence around the detention area to address safety concerns.