A tree (hopefully) grows in Eastport

Street-end park hopes to be model for rest of Annapolis

J. Henson - The view of Spa Creek will become even more scenic as the Fourth Street park makes the transition from concrete to green with a rain garden. Avon Corp. construction workers Delfino Girion and Luis Altoro build wooden forms for concrete this morning. Construction on the park is expected to wrap within the month.
By NICOLE YOUNG, Staff Writer All it took was a brief thunderstorm yesterday evening for curious onlookers to get a glimpse at the inner workings of what city officials and environmentalists are hoping will be a stormwater model for Annapolis and, possibly, the nation. An ambitious project by the city and open-space activists, the TKF Foundation, will turn a once-dingy concrete park at the end of Fourth Street into a lush rain garden that, if all goes well, people won't even realize is a rain garden.

That's the beauty of the park, designed by city Planning Commissioner Jim Urban, who also owns Annapolis-based Urban Trees and Soils.

As folks braved the windy, overcast evening, Mr. Urban explained how rainwater running down Fourth Street would flow into the first of two basins in the park through a small curb opening. From there, the water will flow into another basin which acts as a filter.

Inside that basin, grasses, gravel and sand will filter out trash and leaves, allowing the purified water to flow into a pipe passageway leading to a round, soil- and fiber-filled container which will draw up the water to moisten the soil and water the tree and plants growing in the container.

"The most important thing is filtering and cleaning water before it goes into the bay," Mr. Urban said. "We want to try to reuse the water, to turn the rainwater into a resource. We call it stormwater, as a negative, but it's actually a very precious resource. Treating and reusing this resource is the goal of the project."

Mr. Urban said this process will occur whenever about a quarter of an inch of rain falls. That's about 80 percent of the storms to hit Annapolis. Overflow from heavier storms will be channeled into Spa Creek.

The more than $100,000 project is being funding by the foundation, as well as the city. The Chesapeake Bay Trust also committed $5,000 to the park project.

"It's a good prototype for the rest of the city's street-end parks," said Alderman Ross Arnett, D-Ward 8, who was one of about 30 people who toured the Fourth Street Rain Water Park. "I'm expecting all the street-end parks to develop into this - a model for the rest of the city and country."

Mr. Urban said he hopes the Eastport park will be the example for not only other street-end parks, but any construction within the city. Still, it's going to take some work from the designers and developers, he said.

"The first thing we have to do is to sensitize the design and development community to incorporate these ideas into their work," Mr. Urban said. "They get the water part, but don't get the plant part. Engineers are looking at this as just an object in the landscape like a telephone pole or something else they would engineer."

Citing 1901 West as an example of poorly designed rain garden space, Mr. Urban said the goal of the Fourth Street park is to combine aesthetically pleasing design with environmentally forward moving construction.

"(People) could be sitting around a rain garden and wouldn't even know it was a rain garden," he said. "These spaces can do double duty if they are designed right."

The design for the park was first brought to the Eastport Civic Association about a year and a half ago and received a positive reception, Mr. Arnett said.

The Fourth Street rain water park also is one of the first visible neighborhood upgrades to the Fourth Street corridor of Eastport, which started back in December. In addition to the park, other renovations include the expansions of Lewnes' Steakhouse and the Boatyard Bar and Grill. The project also includes tearing down the old Hopkins furniture warehouse and putting up a mixed-use development including 16 condos, retail and office space, and even an underground parking garage with 60 spaces.

Construction of the park began about two months ago and is expected to be completed in about two to three weeks. The final planting should be done in the fall, once the weather cools, Mr. Urban said.

He said he hopes to plant an American sycamore tree.

Mr. Urban said there are currently no other plans moving in this direction, but he is using his position on the Planning Commission to urge applicants who come before the board to "pick up the spirit of what we are trying to do."

In our area, Montgomery County and Prince George's County are working in a similar direction as far as rain gardens and parks, he said.

Published June 22, 2007, The Capital, Annapolis, Md.

(Revised July 2007)