News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

April 10, 2013

Plan Commission member says ‘illegal’ drainage system approved

Property owner says water damaging land

TERRE HAUTE — The calm the Vigo County Area Plan Commission has been enjoying this year may be changing – at least a little.

Last month, Wayne Langman, a member of the 14-member commission, wrote a letter to his fellow members telling them he believes the City of Terre Haute approved an “illegal drainage system” to manage water runoff for the Sycamore Terrace apartments, located on New Margaret Ave. near Indiana 46/U.S. 40 on Terre Haute’s east side.

In March, the plan commission fell a vote short of approving a new plat for the apartments, which are being developed by Thompson Thrift, a Terre Haute contractor. Two commissioners voted against the re-platting because they disapproved of the drainage system.

Oddly, at the March meeting, most people, including the commissioners, seemed to believe the new plat was needed to allow Thompson Thrift to expand Sycamore Terrace, a multi-million-dollar apartment development.

It now turns out that was wrong. The building of 72 new apartments can continue regardless of the outcome of the commission’s March vote. The failure to approve the new plat only affected how the Sycamore Terrace property is legally divided up into different “lots.” It did nothing to stop present construction, said Jeremy Weir, executive director of the Area Planning Department.

But the commission’s vote certainly seemed much more critical at the time it took place. In fact, Langman told the Tribune-Star on Monday that after he voted to oppose the re-platting, several people confronted him about his vote.

“How dare I stand in the way” of a multi-million-dollar construction project, Langman said he was repeatedly asked.

Langman voted against the re-plat request because he believed it was a way to force Thompson Thrift to change the Sycamore Terrace drainage system. Currently, part of the water drainage is directed through a large pipe that drains onto property owned by Wayne and Linda Horn, who live north of Sycamore Terrace. The Horns have repeatedly attended plan commission meetings this year hoping to have the drainage system changed.

As with Langman, the Horns believe the drainage system is illegal because it concentrates water drainage into a single spot and expels it onto a neighbor’s property, something they believe a 1982 Indiana Supreme Court decision, Argyelan v. Haviland, has made illegal.

However, the planning department’s Weir believes the drainage system put in place by Thompson Thrift is legal.

“I appreciate the fact that [Langman] feels it’s possibly illegal,” Weir said Monday. “But we’ve looked at it and it does meet code… It has been reviewed for its legality.”

Terre Haute City Engineer Chuck Ennis, whose department approved the drainage plan, also believes it is legal.

“In the review of this drainage plan, the water leaving the property is discharged into a natural drainage way or watercourse, at [a] pre-developed rate,” Ennis wrote in a letter to the Plan Commission in response to Langman’s letter. “It is the opinion of the City Engineer’s Office that it therefore complies with all applicable regulations.”

Paul Thrift of Thompson Thrift, noted to the Tribune-Star on Monday that the drainage plans were approved by the city. He also said he has offered to repair any damage to the Horns’ property.

“I’ve told Mr. Horn, if he has any issues on his property that he feels are our problem, we’ll gladly go correct it,” Thrift said. “But I walked out there myself. I didn’t see anything.”

Thrift also said no one from his company spoke to Langman about his vote against re-platting the Sycamore Terrace property.

But Horn said the property cannot be “repaired.” He also believes that misses the point of his argument that the drainage system is illegal in the first place. And the Horns still believe Sycamore Terrace is creating a swamp on a piece of their property formerly dry enough for hiking. Now, boots are needed to walk through the area, they said.

Local officials seem to automatically side with the developer, Horn asserted.

But Weir, like Ennis, believes everything has been done legally. However, Weir said, he appreciates Langman’s hope that, in the future, Area Plan commissioners slow down and look carefully at all matters before them to avoid problems such as surfaced last year over Cobblestone Crossing and the Woodgate subdivision, something that took up much of the plan commission’s time in 2012.

“I think that’s a very valid point on Wayne’s part,” Weir said. “Everybody needs a reminder every once in a while to do it the right way.”

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@

tribstar.com

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