Growth hinges on water, sewerage, under new bill

June 06, 1993|By Phyllis Brill | Phyllis Brill,Staff Writer

Harford County would ban development in areas lacking adequate water and sewerage under a bill expected to win County Council approval this week.

The measure is part of a three-part package designed to regulate growth by ensuring that schools, roads and other public facilities can handle development before it is approved.

"Basically, we're trying to tighten the process to deal with adequacy earlier in the stage of development rather than at the end, at the point of issuing connection permits," said county Planning Director William Carroll.

He said the county hopes to avoid a backup of incomplete construction projects such as the one that resulted in the Plumtree Run drainage area.

In that case, the state imposed a moratorium on building in the U.S. 1 corridor south of Main Street in Bel Air while the Plumtree pumping station was upgraded to meet the needs of the growing population. The three-year-long moratorium was lifted this spring, when the pumping station expansion was completed.

"That was a very large mess," said Theresa M. Pierno, D-District C, who has spearheaded support of the adequacy bill among council members. "Many of the homes had already been constructed but couldn't hook up to water and sewers. We just couldn't handle the rapid development."

Mrs. Pierno said that between 1,500 and 2,000 residential units are built each year in the county, but about five times that number have received preliminary approval and are somewhere in the planning pipeline.

"Why have we allowed thousands of units to come on line without meeting adequacy tests? This to me is crazy," she said.

The water and sewer bill is the second in a three-part legislative series known as the Adequate Public Facilities program.

The first piece of legislation, allowing the county to reject new development in areas where schools would be crowded to more than 20 percent over capacity within three years, went into effect July 1, 1992.

The third segment will address the adequacy of roads in areas wheredevelopment is proposed. That legislation will be introduced this fall, Mr. Carroll said.

In addition to requiring sewage-capacity approval earlier in the process, the new law would shorten the amount of time a developer can sit on land approved for development without building on it.

Currently, developers who receive preliminary plan approval have one year to record the plat.

If they fail to do so in a year, they may apply for a one-year extension as many as five times.

The proposed law would give the developer two years to record the plat but only one two-year extension, thus reducing the overall life of the plan approval to four years.

"We think that is more in line with the pace of development in the county," said Mr. Carroll, noting that it generally takes more than one year to record the final plat, finalize the details of the plat and iron out engineering problems.

It also may lessen the tendency for some developers to "hold capacities hostage," Mr. Carroll said, noting that a developer can obtain preliminary plan approval to build homes and then delay for years recording the plot as a subdivision to avoid paying higher taxes.

The proposed law calls for any developer who applies for a two-year extension to reapply for water and sewer adequacy. If in the meantime the system has reached capacity, the applicant would be forced to get in line for water and sewer hookups behind other developments that have moved forward.

There are about 7,000 residential units within the development envelope -- that part of county designated for growth -- that have received preliminary approval to date and about 3,000 more elsewhere in the county, according to Mr. Carroll.

Mrs. Pierno has introduced an amendment to the proposed legislation that would limit "grandfathering" of developments that already have preliminary approval.

If the amendment is adopted, those developers will not have to go through site plan approval again, but they will have to apply for water and sewer adequacy each time they apply for an extension.

The legislation would take effect 60 days after passage.

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