Low water pressure raises tensions

Carroll town, builder dispute need to build a pumping station

November 05, 2001|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

Few things leave a person more unsatisfied in the morning than a showerhead that emits a mere trickle of water. These frustrating mechanisms have become the center of a controversy at New Windsor's Blue Ridge Manor development.

Residents of about a dozen homes built on high ground say they have insufficient water pressure, a problem town officials say they foresaw years ago. The homes aren't far enough below the town water tower for gravity to create the requisite pressure.

The developer, William Schneider, acknowledges the problem but says the town won't accept his proposed solutions. County plumbing inspectors say the pressure doesn't meet state requirements, but they're holding back on enforcing state codes in hopes that the town and developer will compromise.

The town's hired engineers expressed concern about water pressure at the development in the early 1990s, when the first phase of construction at Blue Ridge Manor began, Schneider said. The town said that until it built a water tower, Schneider could only build houses on a low-elevation section of the property off Rowe Road.

In the late 1990s, however, an engineer told Schneider he could build on any section of the property as long as water pressure at ground level exceeded 30 pounds per square inch. Ground pressure at all of the lots exceeded that level, so Schneider began building houses on the highest section of the property, off Gullo Road.

Residents complained occasionally about water pressure but learned to live with it, Schneider said. That changed about three months ago, when Rockville plumber Ken Keller moved into a house on Gullo Road. Keller said he knew of the pressure problems, but given his plumbing experience, he also knew residents could use state codes to demand more pressure.

Responding to Keller's complaints, Michael Maring of the Carroll Bureau of Permits and Inspections checked the house and found that inside pressure did not meet state requirements. He ordered Schneider to install a booster pump at the house to increase pressure. Schneider, however, worried that if he installed the $1,000 pump at Keller's house, all of Blue Ridge Manor's approximately 60 homeowners would demand booster pumps.

"That would bankrupt me," he said.

Schneider took his case to the county, saying he had followed the town's requirements and promised that he would develop a compromise.

In that compromise, Schneider and his partners would share the cost to build a pumping station that would increase pressure at Blue Ridge Manor and the New Windsor Heights development across the street.

Keller and Maring say the station might solve the problem. But New Windsor would have to maintain it, and town officials have questioned whether they should devote public funds to a facility that would benefit two developments.

Schneider argued that the town promised such a station when it raised water fees several years ago and that he would be doing New Windsor a favor by building it. But the town is reviewing its water system to determine if a new water tank will be built, which makes it harder to determine the value of a pumping station, said Town Attorney Michelle Ostrander.

The bottom line, according to an agreement between New Windsor and Schneider, is that Schneider, not the town, is responsible for keeping pressure at acceptable levels, Ostrander added.

"If I bought one of those homes, I'd be very unhappy," said New Windsor Mayor Sam Pierce. "We're probably going to build a new tank that will help resolve these issues, but that's probably three, four, maybe five years down the line."

Schneider said that if the town won't accept his proposal for the pumping station, he probably will have to install individual pumps on Keller's home and perhaps others. If that happens, Maring said, the county or an outside inspector probably would check pressure levels at each home in the development and order pumps for those that don't measure up.

He called the situation unusual for Carroll County, where homes often have too much water pressure. All parties seem unsure where the conflict is headed.

Ostrander said she hopes the county will back the town's desire that Schneider boost pressure at existing homes and halt sales of new homes until the pressure on those properties has been thoroughly checked.

Schneider said he hopes the town will accept his compromise and that the county will give him time to correct the problem.

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