One way to stop flooding in Overbrook: demolish houses

More than 30 victims of flooding in Overbrook met Thursday to consider their options, none of them good.

Baltimore County in March offered the neighborhood seven options for solving flooding issues, but almost all of the options would include razing one or more houses.


"It's horrible," said resident Mark Cyzyk. "We're going to lose neighbors."

But Lisa and Mark Van Bavel, whose house at 810 Stevenson Lane sits at the epicenter of the flooding and would have to be demolished under almost any scenario, said they would be willing to sell it to the county for condemnation under eminent domain, for the right price.


"If it'll help others, I'm all for it," Lisa Van Bavel said.

Trying to reach consensus on which of the county options they would prefer, residents crowded into the Worthington Road living room of Kristin and Matt Kluga, who lost two cars in the most recent storm July 14.

"I think we all know why we're here," said Kristin Kluga, who has been leading efforts in the community east of York Road for several years to get county officials to address flooding problems.

Also attending the meeting were County Councilman David Marks, State Sen. James Brochin, State Del. Stephen Lafferty, former Maryland Department of the Environment Secretary Robert Summers and Amy Hribar, a water resources engineer for the company McCormick Taylor, which conducted a study on which the county options are based. Summers and Hribar both live near Overbrook and were invited to help give the Overbrook community advice based on their expertise..

Most residents, including the Van Bavels, supported option 3B, which the county describes as removing the Van Bavel house and the retaining walls, grading the flood plain and increasing the size of the Stevenson Lane Culvert to a double box culvert. That option would cost $1.5 million, county officials say.

Van Bavel said that according to the county study, Option 3B would reduce the water level the most of any of the seven options in the event of flooding.

Most residents also gave their blessing to Option 4, which would remove both the Van Bavel house and Michael Marion's house at 321 Worthington Road, while also increasing the size of the Stevenson Lane Culvert. Option 4 would cost an estimated $2.2 million, the county says.

The Van Bavels, who bought their house last year, and Marion, whose house has been in his family since 1965, both supported that option as well.


Mark Van Bavel, a criminal defense attorney, and Marion, a television news producer, tried to find some humor in their bleak situations.

"I'm going to start packing my bags," Marion announced.

When Summers told the residents that he lives on the other side of York Road, Mark Van Bavel asked him, "You want to trade?"

County Public Works officials have said that they like Option 1 best, to purchase and remove six flood-prone houses — 806, 808 and 810 Stevenson Lane, and 317, 319 and 321 Worthington Road. Four of the six home owners voted in favor of that option, but it wasn't as popular with the wider audience. It was also the most expensive of the seven options, at nearly $3.1 million.

Kluga said she would take both options to the county for consideration and try to get a meeting with County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and Vincent Gardenia, director of the county Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability. Residents would have to convince the county to fund whatever option is selected and to set a year for the project in the capital improvement budget, probably several years in the future. That didn't sit well with many residents at the meeting, who said they fear for their property and their safety in the event of another flooding event in the meantime.

Cyzyk suggested an eighth option: removing at least the Van Bavel and Marion homes and possibly others to create an environmental greenway in the area. That idea intrigued residents at the meeting, although some feared it would necessitate another county study and drag out the process even longer.


According to a November 2014 study by the Union of Concerned Scientists, flash flooding is happening more frequently, because of global climate changes. In the Baltimore area, the number of "tidal events " is expected to rise from an average of 17 a year to an average of 227 in the next 30 years, the study says.

"The 100-year flood is now every 10 years," Lafferty said. He said county officials have to understand "the urgency" of addressing flooding concerns.

The idea of creating a greenway, or green corridor, met with favor from Marks, who called it "a fantastic idea," and Summers, who said, "that's exactly the kind of thinking that I was trying to convey" as former secretary of the state Department of the Environment.

"It can be done without affecting the people (who live) upstream," Summers said.

Summers also told residents he thought they were "on the right track" in the county options they chose.

Residents say flooding has been going on for decades in the neighborhood, and the recent rains come at a time when they are pushing the Baltimore County government to fix nearby stream and culvert problems that they say are causing much of the flooding.


The main problem is that Herring Run Stream moves through the neighborhood in two directions and converges at a narrow culvert, or tunnel, under Stevenson Lane at the Country Club of Maryland, Kluga said in April. She said that flash flooding occurs during heavy rains, and the culvert is too small to handle it, causing backups.

The Van Bavel home sits in an especially precarious spot, where a tributary to the north, a channel to the east and Stevenson Lane to the south all converge at the Stevenson Lane Culvert, Kluga and county officials have said.

A bridge over the stream that used to be a main walking route for students and other residents to access Towson High School, Stoneleigh Elementary and the Wiltondale Pool and park has been declared by the county to be unsafe to cross, Kluga said.

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Kluga has said she wants the bridge repaired, the culvert widened and the banks restored.

Resident Gail Robinson said she thinks flooding keeps happening not because the community is in a flood plain, but because runoff from surrounding neighborhoods when it rains is funneled by the county storm drain system into the stream and past Overbrook houses.

"The drainage system is ancient and inadequate," Robinson argued.


Lafferty said after Thursday's meeting that the state could help fund a project, and that state approval would be needed to make any changes to the stream.

"That's an important role we can play," he said.

Brochin told residents he would work with Marks to further the community's agenda.

If it was any consolation, "You are not alone," Summers told residents. He said flooding is a growing problem in many older communities like Overbrook. "This is something we need to get on top."