New water and sewer plan could cost thousands per homeowner
By Adam Ross, County Times
Note: This story, as well as other community news stories from St. Mary's County, will appear in the Nov. 16 edition of The County Times that will appear on local newsstands this Thursday.
More than 70 residents of the Charlotte Hall Town Center protested the construction of a public water main and sewer Monday due to high costs and unfair land assessments.
In front of the St. Mary's County Planning Commission, homeowners from Mohawk Drive and surrounding streets packed room 14 and the adjacent hallways of the governmental center to express their opposition to a project that could potentially cost them thousands of dollars per year.
The St. Mary's County Comprehensive Water and Sewerage Plan, proposed by the St. Mary's County Metropolitan Commission (METCOM), will serve the Pueblo Estates and North Indian Creek Estates as well as anticipated residential development in that area with a new water main and sewer in the next three-to-five years, for what the plan deemed a needed transition for adequate fire protection and unnecessary health risks caused from wells.
The addition of the water and sewer line is intended to "minimize the need to construct new residential construction within the Rural Preservation District," according to METCOM's Public Hearing Staff Report.
But in its current state, the CWSP rests on the assumption that each acre of land can support one residential development, or Equivalent Dwelling Unit (EDU) and therefore it charges homeowners for every acre of land they own.
This means lot sizes, which range from 1.19 to 18.12 acres along Mohawk Drive, are considered developable, even though much of that land is too steep, too hilly or too wet to build a home on.
"We could potentially have four new homes on our land," resident David Michael Davis said referring to his four acre property on Mohawk Lane, "but the fact is the other three acres could not be subdivided because of the conditions, and I dare say other homes in that subdivision are the same."
Planning Commission member Shelby P. Guazzo asked Chief Engineer of METCOM Chester Frederick if CWSP factored the land's typology as a guideline for EDU's. Frederick answered "no," and in order for that to happen homeowners would be responsible to pay for an engineering study.
The total cost of the project is $258,000. Based on the smallest property size in the development area, 1.19 acres, the homeowner would be responsible to pay $1,873 annually, plus a charge of $25 a foot to connect the home with the nearest available meter, in some cases over 1000-feet away, and water usage costs.
Prices rise considerably for homeowners with more acres. Property owners are assessed a benefit assessment charge based on the full development potential of their property, which again is determined as one EDU per acre.
"I've been in my home for 24 years and I thought I would be there my whole life," said Clarence J.M. Davis another resident on Mohawk Drive. "We could never afford $1800 a year, how could I come up with that? I'm on a fixed income, it's going to impact our life."
Other residents said they have already spent hundreds if not thousands of dollars keeping up their current well and septic tank systems, which under the plan would have to be capped and sealed at $600 per well.
If the plan passes, homeowners have six months to hook up to the water main according to Frederick and his interpretation of the law.
Frederick said residents can ask for a two or five year extension, but they still have to pay the benefit assessment charge.
In order for development to go through in that area, and to further restrict growth to the development district, it's a necessary transition for the Charlotte Hall Town Center to be hooked up to public water said Frederick.
Phil Shire, Deputy Director of the Department of Land Use and Growth Management, said developers would do an analysis at their request to make sure the land could hold what the plan was proposing.
Still, members of the audience scoffed at the plan, calling it a get rich scheme for big developers and a step in the wrong direction for St. Mary's County.
The Planning Commission voted unanimously to table the discussion until questions are answered pertaining to the realistic growth potential of the property along Mohawk Drive.