Large septic system planned

Health officials doubt proposal can work for retirement community

April 20, 2001|By Alec MacGillis | Alec MacGillis,SUN STAFF

A retirement community proposed for the junction of Route 144 and Marriottsville Road would rely on a "multi-user" septic system that would be the largest of its kind in Howard County, an environmental engineer said last night.

Testifying for the developers, engineer Robert W. Cheesley told the county's Board of Appeals that the system would work fine, despite county Health Department warnings that a large septic system would have "extreme difficulty" at the site.

"I've been to the site and looked at the soils, and it will support a septic system," Cheesley said.

The "active senior" community proposed by Columbia-based Brantly Development Corp. and LDR International would occupy 73 acres and include 75 single-family detached homes and 72 attached units. It would be entered off Route 144 (Frederick Road).

The application is under close scrutiny because the site is just outside the county's public sewer service area, which divides the densely populated east from its more rural west.

Slow-growth advocates fear that breaches of the boundary will lead to further westward expansion of the service area.

The site is also near Doughoregan Manor, the 860-acre estate of founding father Charles Carroll, whose owners will soon be deciding what to do when the estate's preservation easement expires in 2007.

The estate is not served by public water or sewer.

The Brantly site has public water, which the county extended to much of Marriottsville in 1993 after concerns arose about well-water contamination from the Alpha Ridge landfill.

Aware of the sensitive nature of their request, developers have tiptoed around the question of whether they would request a sewer extension, which would require County Council approval.

In their initial zoning application, developers said they would prefer to have public sewer serve the site.

Brantly President John Liparini said last month that it made sense to extend sewer lines because the site is barely outside the boundary and because the area around the site is developed.

But after county officials expressed deep reservations about extending sewer lines there, the developers changed their tack, saying they were planning to serve the complex with a large septic system.

The system would cover about 10 acres and would handle up to about 45,000 gallons of waste water a day, Cheesley said last night.

Frederick Road resident Michael Crable, one of only three people who showed up to oppose the proposal, noted the concerns of the Health Department, which has pointed to the septic troubles of neighbors. And he wondered why the developers haven't designed the septic system if they are really planning to go with septic, not sewer.

"How do you know you have the area to do a system you haven't designed yet?" Crable said.

Cheesley said neighbors' septic tanks have failed because they're on lower ground than the proposed development.

The system has not been designed, he said, because "it isn't that stage in the process."

"There isn't any reason to think it won't work," he said. "But there will be safeguards built in so you don't have sewage spilling all over the place."

Acting board Chairman James W. Pfefferkorn said the question would be settled when regulators do formal testing at the site.

"If they won't be able to get sufficient [percolation], they won't be able to build," Pfefferkorn said.

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