Sewer Commission Nixes Regulation Change

The New Milford Sewer Commission has voted against a regulation change that would have limited residential discharge to the sewer system, and thereby would have limited development.  The change had called for less than 300 gallons a day of discharge in the sewer service area.  Because the Health Department requires allotting 150 gallons a bedroom, opponents said the change would severely limit property rights, and was discriminatory to residential property owners.

Paul Szymanski, an engineer representing four clients impacted by the proposed change, was critical of the wording of the regulations, the reasons for the change and the impact the change would have on zoning regulations (Letter Submitted to Sewer Commission by Howland & Associates).  He noted flows had decreased since infiltration to old pipes had been reduced.  Mr. Szymanski asked if projects that have Zoning approval, but have not yet applied for a sewer use permit, would be reimbursed for the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on the permitting process only to be denied because of the proposed change.  “If plant capacity is truly an issue, why do we not put a moratorium on new hookups?” he asked in a 16-page submission to the panel.

After an almost two-hour hearing where the majority of speakers opposed the change, the commission voted 3-2 with one abstention to deny the proposal.  Commission members Greg McGill and Glen Krizan and chairman John Heaton voted to deny. Pat Sherry and Frank Bidetti voted against the denial, with member Gary Pfaff abstaining.   Mr. Pfaff wanted time to have the panel’s attorney, Lorry Schiesel, investigate some of the allegations and comments raised during the hearing.  “Are we going to be able to defend this?” Mr. Pfaff asked.

Mrs. Sherry wanted more information about the current volume of discharge and existing capacity of the plant, as well as where capacity would be if everyone who has been benefit assessed were to tie into the system.  She said some good points had been made during the hearing, but noted all but three speakers where people with projects impacted by the change.

Mr. Krizan, however, said the proposal had been “ill conceived,” promoted for the wrong reasons and that he was “almost embarrassed” by some of the critical comments made during the hearing.  Mr. McGill agreed the change was ill conceived, saying he had opposed it from the beginning. “It’s time to put this issue to bed,” he said.

Developer John Carr said the commission was wrongly taking on a Zoning matter. Others, including former Sewer Commission attorney Jeff Sienkiewicz, said the proposal was inconsistent with the town’s Plan of Conservation and Development.  He pointed out that the commission levies a benefit assessment when a pipe is laid in the ground, and then a connection charge for service.  “Once you levy a benefit assessment”¦ you’ve got to treat everyone the same,” Mr. Sienkiewicz said. “It’s clearly discriminatory.

Resident Carl Dunham argued the panel was trying to reserve capacity for commercial development and prevent affordable housing development.  “I see no reason for this to be a political issue,” he said, agreeing with those who said the commission had failed to show the need for a change that takes away property rights.  “It doesn’t look good to be limiting residential use when you are going for an expansion,” Mr. Dunham said. “You are shooting yourself in the foot.”

The Zoning Commission, by letter, raised several concerns about the impact the change would have on its regulations within the sewer district, including the impact on accessory apartments, the bedrooms allowed, and on conversions to multi-family units for homes built before 1972.  Several developers and property owners said they would fight the change in the courts.

By Lynda Wellman – New Milford Spectrum

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