NEW ALBANY — Residents on Rita Drive live in a bowl of sorts.
The hills and curves of McDonald Lane sit just above the neighborhood, with the land around it sloping down on nearly all sides. When rains come through, that bowl quickly turns into a fish bowl, as water rushes in and pools.
"If it just rains like it did this week, it doesn't really affect us," resident Mary Smith said. "When it pours down, that drain [in front of our house] backs up at the foot of my driveway. That drain backs up next door, and that drain across the street backs up, and water just gushes this way. That's why the water comes up halfway on every mailbox that's in this circle."
Smith, who has lived in her home in the cul-de-sac of Rita Drive for exactly 30 years as of last month, said that water gets over six inches in depth on rainy days. In some instances, the covers on the drains have actually popped off from the torrents.
"That's why we put bricks up around the front of the house, because we didn't want water to get under the house," she said. "Then, we found out it was still getting under the house and had to pay $2,000 to get a sump pump put in."
Now, Smith and her neighbors fear the existing flooding problems will be compounded by a 12-family residential development that could be built adjacent to their property. Earlier this month, CBG Properties was granted an exception by the New Albany Board of Zoning Appeals to construct six two-family duplexes in the mixed-density residential and floodplain districts.
The buildings will be built on the front half of a long property that extends from McDonald Lane to a creek at the end of the lot. Sloping down from the road, the field that currently sits in the back of the property acts as a floodplain in its current state. The duplexes will sit on the highest point of that strip, city council member-elect Josh Turner said.
"With the flooding problems that they already have existing, my thing is where that water is going to go," said Turner, who lives on Rita Drive, right next to where the development is expected to go. "Is that retention pond going to be enough? Ever since they did the improvements where they raised McDonald Lane, it can be a light rain, and Rita is absolutely saturated."
Smith's husband, David, said he's concerned that once more concrete and asphalt replaces grass, more water is going to be diverted into his property.
"If they put something in up here, that's going to be more hard surface that the water can't soak into," he said. "It's just going to run over here even more. The water we get is going to combine with it, and I don't know what's going to happen."
Nearby resident Carol Lenfert said that sometimes, she can't even go in her back yard for extended periods of time when the ground is too wet. Water comes from the street, into her neighbor's yard, finally spilling over into hers, where it settles.
"[My neighbor's] yard is a swamp, and all that her yard can't hold ends up in our yard," Lenfert said. "This spring, we couldn't even get back there for like two months because the ground was just so wet."
Another concern raised by Lenfert is the density of the area surrounding the newly-installed roundabout on McDonald Lane. She said that all of the effort to make that safe for pedestrians is going to be set back by adding several more cars coming from a different side of the existing three-way convergence.
All of those factors combined, Lenfert believes surrounding property will see devaluation.
"My biggest concern is that you're going to crowd a whole bunch of buildings on to a very small piece of ground, and we're all going to be jammed in here like crackers in a box," she said. "To me, that's going to devalue our properties. You've got 12 families, and that's going to be increased coming and going and increased garbage."
The residents said they felt discouraged when they went to the Nov. 6 BZA meeting, adding that they feel board members "already had their minds made up." Smith said that she has her house paid off and would like to retire there. If things get worse, however, she worries she and her husband may have to leave.
Lenfert added that she and her neighbors have worked hard to maintain their respective properties and make where they live a nice neighborhood. It's not that she's against developing the property at all, she added.
Building a home where the existing structure is on the property is fine by her book, as long as the green space remains.
All Lenfert wants, she said, is for her concerns to be heard.
"When it's obvious that this property has so many issues, to build something like that on it is just ridiculous," Lenfert said. "Why are they just going to push it on through, regardless of what anyone feels and thinks?"
Turner, who will soon be a city official himself, said it's important for his future colleagues to hear his concerns and the concerns of his constituents.
“The message that I would get across is that you have to listen to the people," he said. "Party politics all aside, listen to the constituents. Their concerns are valid.”
Attempts to reach plan director and zoning officer Scott Wood were unsuccessful.