Panel balks at new plan

Council nonplused by proposed water and sewer revisions

Sprawl impact feared

July 23, 1999|By Matthew Mosk | Matthew Mosk,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County's long-term plan for extending its water and sewer system all but unraveled yesterday as county leaders expressed deep concern about its potential for generating sprawl development.

The revised plan, a phone-book sized document that shows where water and sewer service would be added or expanded over the next two decades, has been two years in the making. But when members of the County Council got their first good look at it in a work session yesterday, they were baffled by its failure to clearly identify the specific upgrades and changes that would be made.

"I have spent hours and hours poring over this book and I can't tell where it's taking us," said Councilwoman Barbara D. Samorajczyk, who raised the initial protest. "I'm afraid this needs to be redrafted so we all know what we're approving."

The lack of an itemized list of changes was one of several problems that had council members predicting the county executive would withdraw the plan or see it rejected when it comes before them for a vote on Aug. 2.

The council members are worried partly because they see the water-sewer plan as a blueprint for development. Any changes, they said, could play a big part in determining how Anne Arundel looks 20 years from now.

"This is a complex document that in many ways locks us into a plan for the foreseeable future," said Council Chairman Daniel E. Klosterman Jr. "We can't just pass over it lightly. And right now, I don't think we can vote with any degree of comfort."

The county's planners, who prepared an elaborate presentation of the proposal, appeared startled by the response.

"I don't know what we're going to do," said James J. Cannelli, the county's assistant planning director. "We'll have to pull together and figure out how we can respond to all these questions."

Cannelli said he did not have the staff to resolve a big question raised by Councilman John J. Klocko III, who wanted to know how potential growth resulting from water and sewer upgrades would burden other county services.

Adding millions of gallons of capacity to the county's sewage treatment plants, as the plan proposes, could make room for thousands of new houses, Klocko said. And each house would bring the county new costs for schools, roads, public safety, and other services.

"We risk walking into a trap," Klocko said. "We need to take a stab at determining what all this is going to cost the taxpayer before we leap."

Because the county lacks the personnel to conduct such a study, Klocko and other council members discussed hiring a consultant. That could hold up approval for months and cost thousands of dollars.

All that would be a major disappointment for a team of county employees that has been working on the plan since early 1998. The document comes up for review every three years, but the planners undertook a major overhaul this time.

Significant new elements in the plan include expanding the Annapolis sewage treatment plant, proposed construction of a new water facility in the northwest county to eliminate reliance on a Baltimore plant, and widening the water network so that parched regions could tap into reserves stored elsewhere in the county.

The decision to rewrite the document instead of compiling a list of changes, as was done in previous years, may have backfired. Samorajczyk said state law required the council be presented with specific changes, and this version could ultimately be ruled invalid by state officials.

County Attorney Robert M. Pollock said he was looking into that.

Marvin Bond, chief of staff to County Executive Janet S. Owens, said the administration would wait for Pollock's ruling before deciding what to do next.

But if the document is not withdrawn, council members said, it faces almost certain defeat in its current form.

"Right now that's where I think a lot of us would go," said Councilwoman A. Shirley Murphy. "It's just not in the shape we'd need it in to vote yes."

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