Westminster panel backs extension of sewer to shelter site

Nonprofit group plans 65-bed facility

August 13, 1999|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

Westminster Planning and Zoning Commission rescued Westminster Rescue Mission last night.

The panel voted to extend city water and sewer service outside city limits to part of the rescue mission's land on which the nonprofit group plans to build a 65-bed facility.

Coliform bacteria has shown up at the site and the county Health Department has said it would withdraw approval for the new shelter, said David Bowersox, representing the mission.

"The rescue mission is looking at a significant possibility that we may not be able to complete the facility in the absence of water and sewer," he told the commission.

The problem arose after grading by neighboring Random House Inc. compromised the mission property's septic fields, said Town Planner Katrina Tucker in recommending the approval.

The remedy has a precedent in a similar situation six years ago when Westminster YMCA found its wells contaminated and was faced with closing -- unless the city extended its water and sewer service, Tucker and the city attorney noted.

"Recognizing the service they provided, this was granted six years ago," Tucker said. "This is a similar nonprofit group [that] provides drug and alcohol rehabilitation and vocational training."

She said the staff recommended conditional approval for the charitable purposes represented by the mission in its application. The mission property to be served makes up 9.7 acres that do not adjoin the city line.

Between the rescue mission site and the new post office just inside the town limits lies Random House, which plans to expand and to make the Westminster facility its national distribution center. The publishing company and the city are at odds over extending water and sewer service to Random House.

In discussing the rescue mission last night, commission members were explicit that they do not intend to extend water and sewer service for any industrial use unless all the land is annexed by the city.

The commission voted at a special meeting July 20 not to provide water and sewer service to Random House unless the land is annexed. Annexation would require the company to pay property taxes to Westminster, probably an additional $100,000 to $150,000 a year, said Thomas B. Beyard, the city's director of planning and public works.

"There is no current intention to do anything different with this property," Bowersox told the commission of the site for the new shelter.

The rescue mission's existing building would be effectively eliminated by Random House's planned expansion, Beyard said, and would need a new building. The commission's decision will be on the agenda of the Aug. 23 meeting of the mayor and Common Council.

In other business last night, the commission voted for a plan to allow owners of decrepit multi-family housing to add units -- for example, 48 if they had 40 -- if they construct buildings.

Beyard also asked the commission to be available this month to consider possible alternate sites for a new Westminster High School because some of the unspecified locations under consideration are within the city limits.

Some county officials have expressed reservations about the long-planned site off Route 140 near Cranberry Mall.

The school board learned Wednesday that the projected $29 million cost of the new high school has increased by $9 million, in part because of excavation and rock-removal problems at the site and unanticipated improvements needed at Gorsuch Road.

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