Fruits of Harford's bigger Plumtree

April 02, 1993

The lifting of the sewer moratorium in southwest Bel Air last week finally allows the town's commercial revival to get back on track after nearly four years of stagnation. The completion of the $1 million Plumtree Run pumping station expansion will quadruple the area's sewer capacity.

It's been a period of frustration and backbiting, of personal bankruptcies and angry homebuyers, of postponed retail projects. The southwest quadrant was the only area left for Bel Air's non-residential growth and it was frozen.

Because of its importance to Bel Air, even the slightest delays by Harford County, such as resolving warranty problems over the new pumps, became the subject of grumbling and suspicion in the town. It was even suggested that the trash tipping fee dispute between county and town played a role in the protracted time schedule.

The real problem was a lack of foresight and planning (perhaps penny-pinching) by the previous Harford administration that led to the lines serving Bel Air's "four corners" shopping malls and residential expansion pocket to reach capacity for years without relief.

The experience signals that town and county have to work together more closely to plan for infrastructure needs before the crisis point.

The county owns and operates the facilities, but it must promptly, fully inform the paying customer, the town of Bel Air, when future needs are evident.

The episode also illustrates the decisive role of the state environment department in sewer development. The state halted county-town plan two years ago designed to let developers file plats and do construction work up to the point of a sewer connection, which was a stop-gap relief measure. That state action was sound, though it ruffled local developer feathers.

Harford officials emphasize that the sewer project was completed by the April 1993 deadline in the contract. But nearly everyone had expected a fall 1992 completion date. A large homebuilder sold units on that hope, two large chain restaurants bet on that early finish; they were disappointed, as were Bel Air officials.

The economic recession, and developer second-thoughts, helped to delay some ambitious building plans in the Plumtree service area. But the abruptly imposed sewer moratorium was the primary reason.

This bitter lesson should encourage better planning in Harford in the future.

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