Officials call halt to new houses

Water deficit stirs county to stop building in south

Projects in works not affected

May 17, 2002|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Faced with a shortage of water for residential development in South Carroll, the commissioners called a halt yesterday to home construction in the county's most-populous area through 2008.

With 62 water hookups available for homes and businesses through 2005, the commissioners said they had little choice but to stop residential building in South Carroll, which includes Eldersburg and Sykesville. The area has sustained Carroll's highest growth rate, and its population has nearly tripled in 25 years.

"We would have to tell a builder today that he couldn't do anything until 2009," said Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier. "We didn't expect to have a gap in water [supply]. These kind of actions cause a moratorium and that is not our intent."

The county is in a bind because its water treatment plant in South Carroll is operating at near-capacity. Plans for a second plant at Piney Run Lake have not won state approval.

Confusion exists as to the exact number of remaining hookups, but if the county approves all the recent requests, "no matter how we count, we could be close to zero," said Doug Myers, county director of public works.

Rather than allocate more water to new homes, the commissioners chose to reserve the supply for industrial prospects that might be interested in the area, particularly at Warfield, a business center planned along Route 32. The 96-acre site, once part of Springfield Hospital Center in Sykesville, is expected to be a boon to economic development for the county. It promises more than 1,000 jobs, satellite college classrooms and a hotel.

Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge said any available water must be reserved for industry.

"We have to be able to tell businesses that we have water," Gouge said. "We don't want to cut ourselves off and not have the opportunity if something comes through."

Public water and sewers and the proximity of Interstate 70 make South Carroll attractive to industry, but the infrastructure must be in place if the county is to lure business, Gouge said.

The decision reached after lengthy debate yesterday means three proposed developments in Eldersburg -- more than 100 homes -- have been put on hold.

Projects approved may move forward. The number of homes in the pipeline was not readily available yesterday.

"If we have not already said yes to a project, then it is no," said Gouge. "No more can come into the pipeline. We cannot cut it so close that industry would not get the taps it needs."

Commissioner Donald I. Dell said his fear was that the county would face lawsuits if it cannot prove it has a water shortage. But Myers assured officials he has statistics to support his claims of a shortage.

Frazier stressed that the moratorium is temporary, in effect only until a $15 million proposed water treatment plant at Piney Run Lake comes online. That project faces strong opposition from South Carroll residents. The county has submitted designs for the plant to the Maryland Department of the Environment but has had no feedback from the state. If approved, the plant would take about 24 months to build.

"In several months, we will be given the OK for the plant and there will be no problem," Frazier said. "Once our plant is started, we will have a better idea of when more taps will be available."

Her commissioner colleagues were not so optimistic.

"We don't know about the plant," said Gouge, who has opposed the Piney Run project since Frazier and Dell voted two years ago to build it. "It has not happened yet."

South Carroll relies on Liberty Reservoir for its water supply, which is piped to nearly 7,000 homes and businesses daily. The county can draw as much as 3 million gallons daily from the reservoir owned by Baltimore.

The county allocates 300 gallons daily to each new home.

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