2006-03-23 / Front Page

Town water hookup amendment continued

By Dotti Farrington

Sitting as the Board of Water and Sewer Commissioners, the Town Council Monday continued until its April 17 meeting amendment of its regulations on fees for tying into the municipal water system to ensure that all costs would be billed to those connecting, but allowing lower or waived fees for affordable housing.

Spurred by Councilman Michael Schnack, the councilors also held out for more review of a request that has been pending more than a year for an extension of municipal water to a house on East Shore Road, which is outside the municipal water district.

A public hearing was conducted on the regulation change to increase the connection fee from $2,000 to $3,000 as an impact assessment for the capitol reserve fund, and to add installation fees of $1,850 for connections on town roads and $3,300 on state roads to reflect actual costs.

The councilors discussed the proposal and decided it needed to be amended to show the installation fees would be the minimum charge with property owners being billed for the actual amount. They also decided by consensus that the regulations should provide for the option of the board to lower or waive fees for affordable housing, with the administration directed to provide criteria to make sure such costs breaks went for non-profit housing, but not to for-profit developers.

The only person to speak at the hearing was Valerie Molloy of Columbia Avenue, who encouraged the provisions being proposed for affordable housing. She suggested that they be provided to recognize owners of properties that might need connections for conversions of existing premises to add an affordable housing unit.

Public Works Director Steven Goslee, who oversees the water and sewer departments, expressed reluctance to bill customers for the extra costs of installations. He said he expected they would "use stop watches and get into challenges" over extra charges. However, the councilors insisted it would be unfair not to bill individuals. That would mean extra installation costs would be distributed among all municipal water customers, the councilors said. Schnack suggested there would be few if any stopwatches "and if there are, we should be able to justify charges."

Council Vice President Julio DiGiando, supported by Commissioner William Kelly, championed the breaks for affordable housing. "We're pushing for affordable housing. This is another way to help it happen," Kelly said.

Council President David Long said he was "reluctant about caveats that may be loopholes. I am leery, but if we don't include (consideration for affordable housing), there may not be an option in the future."

The Muir application Donald Muir of Whittier Road applied in late 2004 for an extension of the town waterline to a lot he owns at 44 East Shore Rd. that abuts the end of the municipal water district.

In January, Schnack provided his findings about the Muir's East Shore property, which were disclosed at this week's meeting. Muir "has not demonstrated that he has exhausted all avenues to locate a well on his property," Schnack wrote. He noted that Muir did not follow through on related applications he made in 1997.

Because of the island's limited municipal water supply, current regulations require an applicant for a waterline extension prove that all other possible options for water have been exhausted before the council can consider an waterline extension.

Last year, the councilors were uneasy about Muir's efforts to drill a new well were being limited to an effort to go less than 50 feet deep.

Muir was represented at this week's meeting by attorney Christopher Kehoe. Kehoe argued that the commission allowed about 50 connections and extensions over the past 10 years without the regulations making distinctions among them. He also contended that Muir was being asked to do far more than any other applicant has been required to do.

"You are taking a tougher stance than allowed," Kehoe said. He and Muir suggested that the size and configuration of the East Shore property does not allow for a well without one or more variances from the zoning board. The water from any well would also be suspect in terms meeting department health standards.

Councilor Barbara Szepatowski spoke for the Muir proposal. She said that long ago she did some engineering related work for him and more recently he has been a client of her pet business.

However, she said she has been advised that she did not have to recuse herself from the discussion and voting on his situation because she has no current business involvement with him.

Szepatowski acknowledged that she was hoping the animal shelter she is developing for the town would be a recipient of the water saving retrofits from Muir. He suggested that he donate the retrofits to offset the water usage he would be incurring if his application were approved.

The other councilors said they were struggling with the concept of the retrofit trade-off for water, but did not detail their concerns. They agreed to refer the matter, with new aspects including Kehoe's written submissions, for review by Associate Town Solicitor A. Lauriston Parks, preferably for their next meeting.

During the months Muir's application has been under consideration, he and the commissioners have also discussed his proposal to in effect offset the water he would use by paying for water-saving retrofits on either public or private property.

Muir and his family lived on East Shore Road for two years. He said during that time the water was muddy, of poor quality, under poor pressure and subject to outages. He said a doctor said his wife's miscarriage in 1998 might have been caused by the property's water supply. The family then moved to East Passage. In 2002, they moved to their present home.

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