GATES MILLS — After a sparse turnout at a May meeting to educate the community about protecting their watershed, Councilwoman Ann Whitney is seeking to inform residents about riparian zones and draft an ordinance for stream bank management.

Mrs. Whitney said that she would like to work with the Chagrin River Watershed Partners to draft an ordinance that is tailored to Gates Mills. The draft then would be posted online to allow residents to review and comment on it for 30 days.

“An ordinance that protects the watershed and stream banks is common sense stewardship to help maintain property values by controlling erosion, flooding and promoting a healthy overall system for the region,” she said.

Watershed partners Deputy Director Kim Brewster said that a riparian zone is the area of land along a stream or waterway, and it is best to keep this zone healthy.

“Riparian zones are healthiest when native vegetation is allowed to grow,” Ms. Brewster said.

Ms. Brewster explained four benefits from a healthy riparian zone. She said that riparian areas help soak up the water flow after it rains. When a stream floods, it will access the flood plain and it will spread out, slow down and soak into the ground. A healthy riparian zone helps mitigate flood flows and the impact to nearby infrastructure and homes, she said. Vegetation in the riparian zone can also stabilize stream banks and hold in the soil.

In addition, Ms. Brewster said that native vegetation in riparian areas helps filter stormwater runoff from hard surfaces like parking lots and roofs. The runoff picks up pollutants, she said, and the vegetation helps filter it. This improves the water quality for humans and aquatic critters, she said. Lastly, the vegetation helps protect habitats for terrestrial and aquatic species. The plants provide shade and cool temperatures that species need to survive, according to Ms. Brewster.

“The shade helps prevent invasive aquatic species from coming that thrive in sunlight, such as phragmites,” she said.

The watershed partners group already has a draft ordinance regarding riparian areas that lists permitted, prohibited and conditional activities. Permitted activities are passive recreational uses, such as hiking, and other things like reforestation and re-vegetation. Activities that would require a variance are prohibited, like the construction of roads, parking lots, homes and other new impervious surfaces. Some activities are conditional, meaning that they may be permitted if approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission, and that includes landscaping the area or completing stream bank stabilization projects.

There are 34 members of CRWP, and 17 have already adopted this draft ordinance or a similar one. Many Chagrin Valley communities have done so, including Bentleyville, the Village of Chagrin Falls, Hunting Valley, Moreland Hills, Orange, Pepper Pike, Russell and Woodmere.

Mrs. Whitney said that residents understand the parameters of a riparian ordinance. Through her interactions with residents, Mrs. Whitney said that residents have been positive about moving forward with a riparian ordinance.

“The last time this was brought up, there was a village revolution,” Councilman Ed Welsh said at the June 11 council meeting.

Mrs. Whitney said that she is dedicated to informing the public and addressing any concerns or misunderstandings that may arise.

Julie Hullett has been a reporter for the Chagrin Valley Times since August of 2018 and covers Gates Mills, Hunting Valley, Moreland Hills, Orange, Pepper Pike and Woodmere. She graduated from John Carroll University with a journalism degree in 2018.

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