Where will Middlesex county put sewer lines?
by Tom Chillemi
Central sewer for Middlesex County has been talked about for years.
Middlesex recently applied to the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) for an expandable sewage treatment plant to serve the courthouse area and parts of Saluda.
However, it’s unclear if, how or when the rest of Middlesex will get central sewer. This uncertainty complicates the work of the Middlesex Planning Commission, which has been trying to write an ordinance amendment for Village Community (VC) zones that would require central sewer.
The proposed amendment is a reaction to two large subdivisions that have a total of 173 lots. The subdivisions were approved in May with no rezoning required. Village Community zoning allows almost twice the density of Residential zoning, and five times the density of Low Density Rural.
The planning commission had proposed an amendment to require central sewer for new “Village Community” subdivisions with 25 lots or more.
However at a September 11 public hearing, real estate broker Eric Johnson of Stormont told the commission that central sewer is not feasible for that few lots. “Small (treatment) plants do not operate efficiently,” said Johnson. “And they do break down and it’s a terrible burden on the county to try to take them over” when they fail.
Commission member Gor-don Jones agreed that small sewage treatment plants are inefficient.
Commissioner Garrison Hart said, “We have no idea what this is going to cost the developer.”
Hart said the central sewer requirement for 25 lots or more would increase costs and affect affordable housing. “It’s really hard for them (sewage plants) to operate with that few people.”
E. Johnson told the commission, “I think we are rushing too fast for some of these things and they are not being thought through.”
The planning commission sent the central sewer amendment back to the subcommittee. Last week the subcommittee changed its proposal for new VC subdivisions, requiring lots that are less than 20,000 square feet (about a half acre) to be served by central sewer, which mirrors the central sewer requirement for Residential subdivisions.
The new proposal also drops the 25-lot threshold.
The planners will hold a public hearing on the new proposal on Thursday, October 9, at 7:30 p.m. in the historic courthouse.
Sewer plan needed
There still is a need for a detailed central sewer plan for the county, Johnson told the commission at the September 11 hearing. “If Middlesex does a sewer plan for the county and there is some idea how these little plants are going to operate for a few years, when they start breaking down then we’ll know how they are going to tie together [to a county central sewer system].”
Chairman John England responded that Johnson made some good points with regards to a need for long-range central sewer planning for the county.
“It is the job of the county to figure out what we are doing with central sewer and central water,” England said. “Where do we want it?”
England said that once the areas to be served by water and sewer service are defined, developments should be built in those areas. “The board of supervisors needs to decide where the sewer district is, and that’s where we ought to be requiring these [developments],” said England.
England noted that Deltaville is an area that needs central sewer.
“Generally speaking, most actions taken in government anywhere are generally a result of someone taking advantage of a law the way it is written and making a problem,” said England. “It’s due to those situations that we have zoning today.”
Reaction to density
Commission member Marilyn South pointed out that the proposed water and sewer regulations for Village Community developments are the result of two large subdivisions being permitted “by right” in May 2008.
Density is greater in Village Community zones, which have no minimum lot size, but limit density to two dwellings per “gross” acre in the entire parcel.
However, if central sewer and water are installed, then density increases to 4.4 units per acre. This is because Village Community zoning gives a five percent density “bonus” for central water, and five percent bonus for central sewer.
No rezoning was required for either of the large developments that were approved in May. These developments will total 173 dwellings.
“Stonebrook at the Courthouse” in Saluda will have 85 units on 36 acres. The average lot size is .18 acre, about 8,000 square feet. The current Village Community zoning ordinance permits 156 units “by right” on the parcel.
Water View Landing LLC received site plan approval for 88 single-family dwellings on an 83-acre parcel located on Route 640 across from the Water View firehouse.
“Village Community has been abused to put in high density,” said England, noting the commission’s proposed amendment would give planners more input. “That’s where we’ve been coming up short.”
Other requirements are proposed only for new Village Community zoned subdivisions, including curb-and-gutter streets, lighted sidewalks and fire hydrants every 400 feet.
The entire proposed amendment can be read on or on http://www.co.middlesex.va.us.