Building moratorium announced for Mayo

Officials say move will limit strain on overtaxed sewage plant

August 10, 2008|By Karen Shih and Jasmine Jernberg | Karen Shih and Jasmine Jernberg,Sun Reporters

The Department of Public Works announced a building moratorium for Mayo on Wednesday, seeking to alleviate stress on the overtaxed sewage treatment plant that serves more than 3,000 properties in the area.

"It's due to the lack of capacity," said Matt Diehl, DPW spokesman. "No one wanted to declare a moratorium, but it was the responsible thing to do."

The department plans to expand the facility in three to five years and has budgeted $31 million for the project, though approval by the Maryland Department of the Environment is pending, said Leslie Campbell, manager of financial services for DPW.

The expansion will allow the facility to process 870,000 gallons of sewage a day, up from about 600,000 gallons. As the community continues to grow, officials expect another expansion to be necessary around 2020, when the plant will be needed to process 1.1 million gallons a day.

The moratorium is effective immediately and blocks all residential and commercial development that would add to the load at the plant. The area affected is south of Loch Haven Road, stretching to the water, and includes the Loch Haven community on the peninsula to the northeast.

Diane Olsen, president of the Beverly Beach Community Association in Mayo, said living on peninsula requires that smart growth be a priority for residents.

"I think that so far most people are happy to see a building moratorium," Olsen said. "People are very concerned because we have been saying for years that the system is over taxed."

According to Olsen, regular backups bubble from city drains, though it is not clear if it is sewage or storm water. She said that there was a sewer main break near Cedar Avenue two months ago.

The plant was built in the late 1980s and has not been expanded since then. It is a unique system in the county, because while a conventional plant takes all waste from homes and businesses for filtration and disinfection, in Mayo, each house and business has a separate septic tank that sends just liquids through sand filters and man-made wetlands, Campbell said. Solids are pumped out and treated at another plant. The expansion will also upgrade the liquid sewage treatment process.

The county has been working with the MDE for nearly a decade on designing an expansion, Diehl said. Though the system was not stressed at the time, the "county officials foresaw this as a problem," he said, "and have been actively pursuing expansion."

However, Olsen said that previous building projects have not given proper consideration for the area's sewer capabilities.

"The feeling has been in the neighborhood for a long time that people have been given permits improperly," she said.

Letters went out to potentially affected property owners last week, but the moratorium came as a surprise to Karen Drott, who said she received no notice. She and her husband own a property next door to their home on Maryland Avenue, which they had hoped to sell to get out of debt.

"I'm upset," she said. The moratorium "won't just make [the lot] unattractive, it will make it useless."

Having no warning of the moratorium meant they didn't know to sell the property more quickly, for less money, in the two years they have been trying to get rid of it.

"Who wants to buy it now?" she said.

The Homebuilders Association of Maryland also said it was "a little taken aback" by the move.

"We had not been told that the facility was getting to its maximum point," said Susan Stroud, director of government affairs for the association, "that there could be a potential stoppage of permits in that area."

In a slow housing market, the effects on builders - who are building less these days to start with - will be less severe, but the move surprises individual property owners and limits their options, she said.

The moratorium does not include 32 lots that were factored into the sewage system's capacity already. About 350 buildable lot owners are currently paying a service availability charge to have access to the sewage system even before they are hooked up. Only property owners from these lots will be allowed to apply for a permit to build, and the available spaces will be allotted on a first-come, first-served basis.

Other areas not included in the moratorium are anything that does not increase capacity at the facility, including homes that are demolished and rebuilt and additions that require no extra connections to the system.

"Homes aren't necessarily going to be affected," Diehl said. "It's those property owners... [that] had plans to build a house."

Diehl said that there had been one other instance of a moratorium of this nature in the county, in Glebe Heights, near Mayo. The moratorium is on-going and there is a waiting list for permits, he said.

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