Up, Up and Away!

Up, Up and Away!

It has been a long year!!!!! I took on “newsletter duty” last March and April during Covid while we all tried to navigate our way through the potential end of the world and humanity as we know it. This earned me a long reprieve from it being my turn to write one, but alas, here I am again on a Friday morning scouring my smaller than average brain on what to write. I find it strange that I am writing about how “last year” was as if this were New Year’s Eve or the end of a fiscal year, but it isn’t. It seems now everyone measures their “year” from when Covid began, as if March 5th, or whatever date it was, is when our year ended, and a new one began. So, let’s look at “last year” and see if we can use it as an indicator as to where our business is going. Warning, take none of this as gospel as I am usually wrong in all of my predictions of what I think is coming.

We have been busy, as have many in the construction industry. Clearly housing is off the charts, with houses being on the market just a few days and literally receiving dozens of offers, all well above ask. Ultra high demand coupled with ultra low-interest rates has proven to be enough horsepower to overcome skyrocketing lumber and drywall prices as well as nearly every other raw material used in construction. Heck, even the astronomical cost of civil engineering isn’t a drag on this housing market, or so some of my clients tell me. From my perspective, the suburbs are booming, and the cities are struggling. With the city nightlife shut down for the most part, crime on a steady upswing and it being difficult to social distance, we have seen a steady migration out of the urban areas to the suburbs. This may not make all of the Municipalities happy, but the phone ringing in our office is a welcome sound. And so, prediction #1, I feel housing will remain strong for at least several years while this demand continues to be met but may slow as interest rates and gas prices begin their slow creep upward. Someone has to start paying back all of this stimulus money and if you think it won’t be you, think again. Repayment comes in many forms, my friends. However, it is important to keep in mind that the home is no longer just the home; it is also the office, the school, the gym and the vacation spot (as we have engineered more swimming pools this year than we have in the last 20 years combined). And households have shifted those dollars spent on many of those things and put them in the “new house” bucket. This is a good thing….for us.

The office market… where do I begin. Our firm has all been in the office since May 1, when our Governor deemed us “essential”. Thanks Tom. However, we seem to be part of a very small club. Nearly every Zoom meeting I do, and I hate Zoom, has the other people in their kitchen or 4th bedroom office. Most of the people I deal with are still at home. I hope that changes soon, but rarely do I not have someone in a meeting lean forward, look over both their shoulders and whisper, “Denny, I get more work done at home than I do in the office”. Just know that while I would never do it, in my mind, I am leaning forward and slapping you and saying, “ Bull$*#T you are!!!”. So what will become of all of this office space? I don’t think anyone knows, but I hope that many eventually go back or space gets leased by businesses moving out of the urban areas. Either way, I would not be building an office anytime soon and phone calls to design a new office building are few and far between, if at all. So, prediction #2, the office market may be in for a change. Maybe new HVAC systems or “healthy” work areas will be the new norm, but it is anyone’s guess. My gut says people need to be in an office to hire new employees and people from college but who knows. Somehow Drexel and University of Delaware get $80,000 of my co-signed student loan dollars a year to show my kids videos online while they sit in a cinder block cell with a mask on, so maybe the same will hold true for business in the future.

The retail market… oh boy. I mean, when you can order whatever you want and have it that day or the next day at the most competitive price, what is the point in driving somewhere to buy something unless you need to try it on? I will let the pros figure this one out. What will be interesting is how PA Municipalities will react to this as it pertains to their retail and commercial zoning. Prediction # 3, we will continue to see a huge effort into large-scale Amazon and Target type facilities and significant infrastructure dollars will be spent to facilitate moving all of this merchandise around and into our hands. Of course, this brings jobs, and those people need a place to live so… refer two paragraphs up. To the rest of my retail buddies… I would hold on for some bumps as the world changes.

Lastly, let’s look at the flex/warehouse market. I see this being good for a long time coming. Many businesses that require office AND warehouse simply need to be physically at work. You can’t take tractor trailer deliveries, move merchandise and assemble things on your laptop in your underwear at the kitchen table. With all of the housing from above, the trades, landscapers, pool installers etc need a place to work and to service and take care of all of these new homes. Let’s face it, more and more new homeowners can’t fix a leaky faucet or mow their own lawn. Prediction # 4… I like flex!

So how has the last year been, STRICTLY from a business perspective? My answer would be different but good. Covid has taught us all some very tough lessons, but those lessons are only valuable if we learn from them. And as we learn from them and continue to pivot to meet the changes in demand, it certainly is pointing to a much brighter future than what many of us thought we were looking at this time “last year.” Many know I eat breakfast nearly every day at Market Street Grill in West Chester, and this morning, for the first time in a year, I had to lean across the table to hear what my friends were saying because of the noise of everyone talking in the restaurant. What a wonderful inconvenience to have! Stay safe and healthy, and see you “next year” in March 2022.

What the Hail!?

What the Hail!?

When designing stormwater management for a project, it is usually performed by analyzing the pre-development conditions (or coverages) to the post-development conditions. The net difference in volume and peak run-off rates are what we are controlling. Different coverages allow different amounts and/or rates of penetration of run-off back into the ground. Our improvements are typically “impervious,” which do not allow any run-off to seep back into the ground and are therefore the major contributor to the excess run-off that we are trying to control. We design to the 100-year storm event.

Although most people think designing for such a historic rain event is overkill and the facilities capacity will never be used, mother nature has a few tricks up her sleeve’s that increase this probability. The first and most common is frost. As indicated above, impervious coverages are the major contributor to increased run-off, but when the ground freezes, lawn areas become impenetrable as well, temporarily becoming “impervious.” Suppose we get a significant rain event late in the winter season. In that case, the project site becomes 100% impervious, and the run-off volumes and rates increase dramatically over those used under normal conditions. To put this in perspective, a 1-acre site with 10,000 sf. of impervious and the remaining grass will produce 13,812 CF of run-off and a peak flow rate of 6.8 CFS in the 100-year storm event. This same site, under freezing conditions, will make 13,153 CF of run-off and a peak flow rate of 5.6 CFS in just a 5-year storm event. And in the 100-year storm event, these frozen conditions would produce 25,015 CF and a peak rate of 10.35 CFS, which would quickly overwhelm the designed stormwater facilities.

Another weather anomaly that can wreak havoc on our stormwater designs is hailstorms. Witnessed first-hand, the hailstorm we had here just a few summers back produced so much hail that within minutes it had filled up the storm sewer system in our parking lot and acted as an ice dam and stopping the conveyance of run-off altogether. As the hail turned to rain and intensified, the run-off just washed right over the top of all the inlets and continued down through the parking lot, and savagely bombarded the garage door to our lower-level access. Our site is only 2 acres in size, and the amount of run-off was mind-boggling so imagine multiplying this over 1 square mile of a heavily developed area.

It is not economically feasible to design everything for Armageddon-type conditions. Still, it’s essential to know that they can happen and that damaging floods are not necessarily the result of poor engineering design but a result of nature’s unlimited power.

Datum of 2022

Datum of 2022

Everyone loves progress, but nobody likes change. However, change can be good, and for the society of land surveyors, 2022 brings some well-needed changes.

In 2022, the U.S. National Geodetic Survey (NGS) is set to modernize the National Spatial Reference System (NSRS) to a new datum known as North American Terrestrial Reference Frame (NATRF2022). The plan is to altogether remove our current three horizontal reference frames, NAD 83 (2011), NAD 83 (PA11), and NAD 83 (MA11), along with our vertical datum, North American Vertical Datum of 1988 (NAVD88). These datums need to be replaced due to a large number of deficiencies and shortcomings discovered over time.

First, let me explain why datums are essential. A datum is used to reduce errors when marking out and measuring the Earth’s surface. They initially begin with a fixed reference point or set of points, from which precise measurements can be collected. For land surveyors, these reference points are known as survey markers or benchmarks. These points are collected and combined into a network that forms the fundamental dataset for a survey reference frame. They are the basis for all geodetic surveying, mapping, and navigation.

A major problem with our current horizontal datum is that the primary benchmark was proven to be misaligned. The horizontal and geometric datum NAD83, originally published in 1986, was the very first national datum anywhere in the world to have its origin of coordinates at the Earth’s mass center, or geocentric. This was done by calculating a model of the Earth shaped like a perfect ellipsoid. Given the technology at the time, late 70’s early 80’s, our knowledge of the location of Earth’s-mass center was approximately a value of about 2.2 meters or around 7 feet. Not bad, but based on our newest positioning technology and scientific knowledge, we have discovered that Earth is not a perfect ellipsoid. This discovery has improved the accuracy from 2.2 meters down to about 2 or 3 centimeters.

A major problem with our current vertical datum is that it relies heavily on the original survey markers in the ground. Unfortunately, due to subsidence, uplift, freeze/thaw, many have invalid elevations from when they were originally set. The work it will take to relevel, remeasure, or even locate these benchmarks will be costly and time-consuming. NATRF2022 will help lessen the impact of these aging physical markers that currently help define NAVD88. The new datum will rely entirely on reference stations that continuously receive GPS information. Given your location, this will correct errors across the country from 0.5 to 1.5 meters.

These are just two of the significant deficiencies NATRF2022 is set to improve upon. Below is some additional advancement with the new datum:

  • Obtain precise ellipsoid heights on NAVD88 benchmarks.
  • Reduce all definitional & access-related errors in the geometric reference frame to 1 cm when using 15 min of GNSS data
  • Orthometric heights accessed via GNSS accurate to 2 cm
  • Combine ellipsoid height and geoid heights at the same point to calculate its elevation.
  • Ability to compare time-dependent coordinates in any of the terrestrial reference frames at any epoch.

We need to make this change to address future mapping needs and positional accuracies efficiently. Here at Howell Kline Surveying, we hang our hat on planning for the future ahead. When it comes to these changes, we will be on the front line.



Approval to Expand the Chester County Sports Arena

Approval to Expand the Chester County Sports Arena

The Chester County Sports Arena (CCSA) received final Land Development approval from the Caln Township Board of Commissioners (BOC). The approval allows the conversion of the Bob Wagner’s Flooring America (Bob Wagner) building into a recreational use, the consolidation of the Bob Wagner and CCSA properties, the construction of a turf field and tennis/basketball courts, the expansion of the CCSA building, and the reconstruction of interior driveways to improve circulation. The CCSA currently operates as a summer camp for kids with outdoor amenities that include a swimming pool and ropes course. They also offer indoor ice/inline hockey and host birthday parties which are available to the public along with other programs. The approved plan will allow the CCSA to accommodate equipment for the hockey rink, expand/relocate food services and birthday party areas, and increase the number of amenities available to the campers and the public, including a trampoline park.

D.L. Howell assisted JLLAR, LLC through the Land Development process to obtain Special Exception and Conditional Use approvals, and conditional final Land Development approval with the help of Riley Riper Hollin & Colagreco, Traffic Planning and Design, Inc., PPM Design/Build, and Wetlands & Ecology, Inc. DL Howell is very appreciative to have had the opportunity to assist in the expansion of the Chester County Sports Arena.

Eminent Domain – What you need to know

Eminent Domain – What you need to know

As Chester County continues to see more and more pipeline work being performed along its roads, you may have wondered what gives large companies like Sunoco the ability to disturb land so close to residential and commercial properties. Well, reason is simple: eminent domain.

Eminent domain was created in order to give government the ability to take private property for improvements. As pipeline work continues, we would encourage you to look at the following article written by Amanda M. Olejarski titled “Eminent domain? It’s an imminent problem for Pennsylvania”.

Eminent domain? It’s an imminent problem for Pennsylvania


Additionally, property owners looking for more information should read this article.


Ticks in the Winter?

Ticks in the Winter?

Even though there is snow out there, we must still be vigilant against the pesky tick. While ticks are indeed more active during the summer months, you can still come into contact with them in the winter, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). I think we can all agree that ticks are disgusting, but we also know they can carry Lyme Disease. Some of us surveyors are keenly aware of this.

It is important to know as much about Lyme as possible in order to mitigate your chances of contracting it. Now I would not consider myself an expert by any means, but I will share some information that I found very interesting. I do suggest you visit the CDC website as well, as they have some helpful information. If you think you may have Lyme see a doctor right away.

  • Lyme disease is bacterial.
  • Lyme is transmitted through the bite of a Black-legged tick. Not all ticks carry Lyme.
  • Most cases can be treated with a few weeks of antibiotics.
  • Ticks can also carry other diseases. Be sure your doctor is thorough with checks.
  • In the era of Covid, be sure you discuss your potential exposure to ticks with your doctor. Do you spend time outdoors? Even if you don’t, do not forget your pets! The symptoms of Lyme and Covid are similar.

We can all look forward to some warmer weather and spending more time outside. Some of us spend time out there year-round, so warm or cold we share these great spaces with all creatures, including ticks. Be safe and keep up those tick checks.