PC Recommends Sewer Capacity Increase to Support City Center

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Thursday September 04, 2014

Shaping City Center has proven itself to be a multi-faceted project. With the help of various IZ committees, public outreach and workshops, insights from consultants, and new regulations crafted for City Center (Form Based Code), the seed of South Burlington’s City Center dream continues to be watered with fresh ideas---but is there enough actual water for City Center to flourish?

Director of Public Works Justin Rabidoux and Paul Conner, the Director of Planning and Zoning, brought a City Center wastewater allocation issue to the City Council’s attention on Feb. 3, 2014. In a 2005 Sewer and Stormwater systems ordinance, it includes a “City Center Uncommitted Reserve Capacity” of 50,000 gallons per day (GPD) to be used only in the City Center Sewer Service Area. However, Conner and Rabidoux pointed out that the estimated 20-year potential demand in the City Center for the Airport Parkway wastewater treatment facility reflects 470,000 GDP.

South Burlington owns and operates two wastewater facilities. The Airport Parkway facility is used east of Spear St., and is permitted as a 3.3 million gallon per day plant--of which South Burlington owns 2.3 million and Colchester uses the remaining 1 million gallons per day. The two municipalities also share the debt plan to pay about $25 million over a 20-year span. The Bartlett Bay facility serves the Shelburne Rd. corridor and select areas along Spear St. in the Southeast Quadrant.
In their analysis, Conner and Rabidoux also provided information about the total available capacity (591,000 GPD), the estimated demand outside of the City Center Form Based Code area (350,000 GPD), and the estimated shortfall for total demand (229,000 GPD).

Recognizing this disparity in allocation numbers, the Planning Commission asked Rabidoux to present the issue at the June 24 Planning Commission meeting; commissioners discussed the information on Aug. 26.

“This issue has crept up on us and it seems to have exacerbated a spike in development in the SEQ after the Interim Zoning law which has put the city in this very difficult situation, where the city’s No. 1 priority is at risk,” commented Michael Mittag, a member of the Form Based Code Committee. “ If we don’t accommodate City Center in the short term, then what we all dreamed about for South Burlington will be just a dream.”

Letters to the Planning Commission from five Form Based Code members as well as the South Burlington Land Trust reflected this concern.

“At the Form Based Code Committee meeting on August 14, 2014 a majority of the six members present (five in favor and one abstaining) supported a motion to request the City Council to safeguard the City Center development project by taking immediate action to amend the 2005 sewer ordinance to increase the sewer allocation for City Center from 50,000 GPD to the estimated demand of 470,000 GPD,” the members requested. The South Burlington Land Trust requested the same.

Amending the 2005 sewer ordinance was one of the three recommendations from Rabidoux and Conner before council in February, the other two being: (1) keep existing reserve of 50,000 GPD and have the rest be first-come first-serve or (2) explore alternatives to expand the total capacity; this would be up to the taxpayers to use their discretion with a vote because the city can’t incur more debt until current state and federal debt is paid off.

Conner returned last week to answer commissioner questions raised during the June meeting with Rabidoux present to help frame the discussion. Commissioners inquired about what value/reduction in flow could be achieved from a sanitary sewer system Inflow and Infiltration (INI) study and project. The city contacted Hoyle, Tanner & Associates, Inc, to assist with that assessment. Likewise, the firm will also help assess whether the city could get more permitted capacity without spending major money on expansion.

Commissioners also asked about what a full build-out would look like for the entire Airport Parkway wastewater treatment facility; Conner said there were several assumptions that go into answering that question (i.e. what is considered to be a full build-out?) that make it very difficult to provide a solid response. Staff contacted the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission to help with the answer, and, with many caveats in mind, rough numbers suggest the facility could demand 2,800,000 gallons per day.
Lastly, commissioners inquired whether the city could use a flat percentage based on growth rate rather than an analysis.

“I’m not sure we’re a percentage growth community,” Conner responded after reviewing two charts: a Population and Housing Unit Total Scenarios chart and a Housing Units Per Year & Scenarios chart.

“Nobody can predict with certainty what the housing market’s going to do, how the commercial market’s going to go, what city center’s going to do...all you can do is sort of track it,” Commissioner Bernie Gagnon said.

All Commissioners agreed the 50,000 GPD outlined in the 2005 sewer ordinance is insufficient. Gagnon recommended possibly splitting the total remaining capacity three ways: one-third for outside Form Based Code City Center, one-third for City Center, and one-third as reserve; one-third would be roughly 200,000 GPD. Gagnon made the motion that the Planning Commission recommend to City Council to amend the city sewer ordinance be changed to allow 200,000 GPD. Commissioner Ted Riehle seconded.

After further discussion, commissioners added friendly amendments resulting in the following motion: the Planning Commission recommends to City Council to amend the city sewer ordinance to reflect the 470,000 GPD and to expand the current wastewater reserve area to cover the Form Based Code area (see photo). The vote was unanimously in favor among the five commissioners present.

SOURCE: Miranda Jonswold, Correspondent