Sewage Curbs Put Development On Hold

Moratorium Freezes Expansion Until 1992

June 02, 1991|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Staff writer

Bel Air administrators fear development could be stymied for more than a year because the state has extended a moratorium on sewer hook-ups south and west of Main Street until a key sewage pumping station is expanded.

The state's decision means BTR Realty won't be able tomove ahead with plans to expand the Hecht department store in Harford Mall until the fall of 1992, county officials say.

Other projects that may be delayed include:

* Hill Management's proposal to double the size of Bel Air Plaza on U.S. 1.

* Bel Air Land Development Limited Partnership's MacPhail Crossing East, a retail plaza planned for a site on Route 24.

* Harford Land Management's construction of the remaining 175 units in English Country Manor, an apartment and condominium complex just behind the Harford Mall along U.S. Business 1.

Carol Deibel, Bel Air's planning director, said the state's decision "puts us in a real bind.

"This will have a significant impact on the development in town," she said. "From a tax base standpoint, that would make our economic development area shut down for three years. It's already been 1 1/2 years since the moratorium was imposed, so it's already had a serious impact."

Marian Walsh, Bel Air's director of finance, said the owners of Bel Air Plazapaid about $30,500 in town property taxes last year. Deibel said that if the plans to double the size of Bel Air Plaza move forward, it would bring in twice as much in tax income.

Harford Land Development's tax bill for its first 175 English Country Manor properties last year was $11,657; that amount will nearly double -- to $21,000 -- when the tax bills are mailed this July, Walsh said. When the additionalplanned 175 units are built and sold, it could bring the town more than $40,000 in taxes.

Michael Trenery, project developer for the Linthicum-based BTR Realty, said Thursday that the firm has put 18 months of work into the project "and plenty of time and money."

"We own another six or seven acres of land in a business park behind the Harford Mall that also may be affected," said Trenery. "This could affect our ability to market that land, but . . . I don't know all the ramifications yet."

BTR Realty and other developers working with the county and County Council agreed that projects in the section of Bel Air affected by the moratorium could proceed up to the point that asewer hook-up is needed.

The moratorium was imposed in March 1990because the Plumtree Run sewage station, which has the capacity to pump two million gallons of sewage a day, was nearly overloaded. The $1 million expansion, expected to be completed in the fall of 1992, would allow the station to handle eight million gallons of sewage a day.

In the county's master water and sewer plan, the County Council agreed to allow developers of Bel Air building projects to apply for building permits, file plats and even begin construction during the expansion of Plumtree Run.

But administrators in the state Department of the Environment, which under state law must review the county water and sewer plan, say they can't do that.

State Department of Environment Secretary Robert Perciasepe notified county administratorsin an April 24 letter that to issue permits before the expansion wascompleted would violate state law.

"We haven't even seen plans for Plumtree Run yet," said John Goheen, spokesman for the Department of the Environment. "We really don't want permits or construction to start so far ahead of completion because there's always a chance of delay. Then the county is in a bind, and homeowners that have invested money want to move into their new homes, businesses want to start, and you couldn't occupy the buildings until the wastewater treatment facilities was adequate."

Goheen said the department might consider allowing the county to lift the moratorium if, for example, the expansion was only a few months from completion.

Jerald Wheeler, deputydirector of public works for the county's water and sewer division, said he is working with the state to find an acceptable compromise.

"The state will still let hardship cases hook up, but that's reallyfor the little guy that wants to put another toilet in his house or something," Wheeler said.

"The real concern was the need to try toget these projects going, but without state health or construction permits for water and sewer lines, you can't record a plat. For all intents and purposes, bankers won't finance a project unless the plats are filed."

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