Council Hears Planning Commission Recommendation on Sewer Capacity

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Thursday October 09, 2014

Planning Commission Chair Jessica Louisos presented a transmittal letter to council Monday, October 6, relaying the commission’s recommendations to increase the sewer allotment for City Center to provide adequate wastewater capacity for the expanded City Center area now referred to as the Form Based Codes area. An outdated sewer ordinance currently provides for 50,000 gallons per day (GPD) for City Center. The commission does not expect this allocation to meet the full development needs of the city; they find it insufficient to accommodate the full twenty year build out of the area.

The Planning Commission was alerted to the issue after Director of Planning and Zoning Paul Conner, reported on the topic to City Council in February 2014. The information showed total available sewer capacity at 591,000 GPD , estimated demand in the City Center FBC area at 470,000 GPD, and estimated demand outside City Center FBC area at 350,000 GPD, which brings the estimated shortfall for total demand to 229,000 GPD.

Commissioners discussed sewer capacity with Director of Public Works Justin Rabidoux in June 2014, and received follow up information from staff in August. The commission received position statements from both the South Burlington Land Trust and members of the Form Based Code Committee and both groups expressed support for increasing the wastewater capacity for City Center.

Councilors had the opportunity to respond to the commission’s recommendation. They asked Conner for more details about the discrepancies in wastewater capacity estimates for City Center. “These numbers are “very much back of the envelope numbers,” Conner explained. He went on to say that they were given as estimates.

Chris Shaw expressed concern over this issue taking the focus away from items which he perceives to be more urgent for the commission, such as the comprehensive plan and form based code. He suggested that throwing numbers around may be premature.

Pat Nowak agreed that it was a good idea to look ahead at future needs, but pointed out that the council needs to look at the entire city, not just one area. “We don’t know what’s going to happen in the next twenty years,” Nowak said, “there aren’t even any contracts for City Center yet.”

Meaghan Emery called upon the council to take a stance on this issue without calling a halt to development. Emery suggested that by making a commitment to increase sewer capacity in the specified area, they would be showing support for City Center and also for the South Burlington Energy Committee in their pursuit of the Georgetown University Energy Prize. As a show of committment to smart planning Emery made a motion to increase the sewer capacity to 235,000 GPD, and Helen Riehle seconded. The motion failed with two in favor, and three against.

Pam Mackenzie proposed engaging a professional consultant to work with staff to determine some hard numbers through further research. She suggested Conner come up with two or three different RFPs each with their own time frame and budget sooner rather than later; then the council will look to their budget to see where there might be money for such a project.

Mackenzie made the motion to engage a professional consultant, Nowak seconded and the decision passed 4:1. Reihle voted “nay.”

SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent