Seldom does a project come along that makes so much sense for a community on so many levels. The Brooks at Vale Park is one of those projects. The Brooks is a 150-acre planned unit development proposed on a beautiful, yet landlocked piece of property on Valparaiso’s west side. The developer, Jake Wagner, is proposing a 287-home community on the property, combining single family homes, cottages, townhomes, and triplexes, along with walking trails and 50 acres of green space.
Proposed as a planned unit development, The Brooks would provide an opportunity for multiple generations to grow up alongside one another. As an infill development, it would connect to the city by extending Vale Park Road to the west, which has been part of the city’s master plan since the 1950s. Yet, The Brooks represents another opportunity for our community — as a stormwater solution.
Like many communities, Valparaiso has struggled with stormwater issues. Though we’ve worked proactively, challenges remain. In 2014, we saw two separate 100-year storms just six days apart, causing significant damage to private and public properties. We updated our Stormwater Master Plan and found that projects to reduce the flow within the Beauty Creek watershed were high priority. We met with many residents, saw the damages firsthand, and worked with consultants to define solutions. The independent engineering estimate was $13.5 million for the necessary improvements to the Beauty Creek watershed alone.
Because we have an obligation to our residents affected by this stormwater runoff and significant erosion, we sought ways to meet the need. At around the same time, Wagner (a successful and established local builder/developer) began purchase of the property, envisioning The Brooks. Because the property is perfectly positioned to achieve regional stormwater goals, we began talking with The Brooks team. Together, our leadership team of city engineer, utilities director, planning director, and economic development director put our heads together with The Brooks’ experts including soil scientists, land planners, and engineers to design a system within The Brooks to significantly reduce the stormwater flow rates, erosion and negative property impacts to surrounding neighborhoods.
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By working as a team on the design, we were able to accomplish the city’s needs and The Brooks’ needs at the same time. We learned that the necessary work that had been estimated at $13+ million would be $9.7 million if we worked with the developer. Not only were there economies of scale, but we could avoid paying the high costs of removing dirt, as the developer would use the soil on site. We calculated that 70% of the acre feet of the stormwater system will accommodate the city’s regional stormwater needs, with the remaining 30% attributed directly to The Brooks. This means that the city would partner with The Brooks, contributing an amount not to exceed $6.8 million — the portion of work created by the city’s needs.
Further, we were able to make this investment without the need to raise taxes or stormwater fees. In addition, we could still accomplish remaining critical projects outlined in the Stormwater Master Plan.
We’re aware that change sometimes brings anxiety. We’ve had numerous public meetings about this project and have addressed the concerns residents have brought to us. Yet, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. As a city, we see this public-private partnership as an opportunity to make a long-term positive impact on our community. We aren’t just hoping that The Brooks will be a stormwater solution and a complement to Valparaiso’s lifestyle, but we’ve done the work to ensure that it will.