Thursday, December 13, 2007

Legislative Update: Water and Sewer Master Plan

This Monday night, the County Council will consider changes to the County's Water and Sewer Master Plan. The Plan was last adopted in 2003. By law, the County is required to update it every few years.

Service Categories

The Plan contains maps that establish service categories for sewer and water such as Planned Service, Future Service, and No Public Service. These service categories are a planning tool to help the County project its capacity needs. Importantly for property owners, service categories determine how easy or difficult it is to extend public water or sewer to a neighborhood.

For example, it is simpler and quicker for a property owner to get public sewer service if the property is designated as Planned Service than if it is designated as Future Service. Both categories require property owners to submit a petition that goes through an administrative review process. The difference between the two is that Planned Service only requires administrative approval, but Future Service requires County Council approval as well.

Health Concerns vs. Development Concerns

The debate about public sewer is often controversial because it is not just about existing development but future development too. Often a property owner is unable to build on a vacant lot because the ground cannot support a septic system. Public sewer eliminates the need for septic systems and can make previously unbuildable lots buildable.

Proponents of extending public sewer argue that it is more sanitary than a septic system. It eliminates the maintenance headaches that sometimes go along with having private septic. Especially in low-lying waterfront neighborhoods, older failing septic systems can pose a health and environmental hazard. Proponents argue that public sewer should be evaluated based on existing health and development needs, and that zoning -- not the sewer and water plan -- should be what guides future development.

Opponents of public sewer argue that the lack of public sewer is in fact a back-door way to control development. Many communities do not trust our County government to uphold established zoning restrictions. For example, earlier this year the County Council upzoned several properties along Bestgate Road despite strong opposition from neighboring communities. Bringing public sewer to low-density neighborhoods will therefore make more intensive development inevitable.

Draft 2007 Master Plan

The County Executive has introduced Bill No. 84-07 to adopt the new 2007 Water and Sewer Master Plan. The Office of Planning and Zoning has posted the accompanying water and sewer maps on its website. I encourage property owners and neighborhood leaders to closely examine the maps to determine what changes, if any, may be proposed for their area.

The maps are not the easiest thing to decipher. To help people better understand the proposed changes, Planning and Zoning has prepared a summary of changes that affect Council District Six.

Monday's Hearing

Monday's County Council meeting begins at 7 p.m. Citizens can sign up to testify starting at 6:30 p.m. The agenda includes both a public hearing on the bill as well as legislative action. Monday is the last opportunity for council members to amend the bill, so it is critical that people not wait until Tuesday to contact their representative. For more information visit the County Council's webpage.

Related Articles