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Lack of Sewer Capacity Clogs Downtown Development

Bethel hopes to add sewer capacity and spur economic growth along Greenwood Avenue

 

Town officials say an unlikely culprit has slowed potential economic development in downtown Bethel. According to John Lennon, Bethel Planning and Zoning Commission, with many potential retail properties in Bethel, “you can only flush a toilet so many times a day.”

“We have this problem that nobody wants to look at. It's sewer allocation,” Lennon said.  

Bethel sewage is treated in Danbury at a sewage treatment plant. Since the town pays for the sewage it sends to Danbury, each property has a given amount of gallons of sewage allocated. At some properties in town, the allotted gallons are quite limited, which has prevented potential retailers and restaurants from opening because these and other businesses need a lot of sewage capacity.

The lack of sewage capacity has clogged development efforts in downtown Bethel on Greenwood Avenue, where several storefronts are currently vacant. It could also present problems for development plans along the route 6 Corridor – an area where many see great potential for commercial growth and gains in the town's tax revenue.

“One of the things that has restrained our development on Greenwood Avenue is lack of sewage capacity,” said Bethel First Selectman Matt Knickerbocker.

Recently a developer was seriously interested in developing a vacant commercial lot on Greenwood Avenue next to the Burger King, but the deal fell through because the property did not have the necessary sewer allocations. But for those who would like to see more development in Bethel there's light at the end of the tunnel.

Over the past year the town has developed a plan to create a sewer bank.  The town will be able to sell unused sewer capacity from undeveloped lots and areas to new developments that need more capacity.

Knickerbocker said that with the new system, if a developer is interested in a property that is only alloted 400 gallons a day but they need 800, “for a small fee they can buy that additional capacity and we remove it from the bank.”

There will be a public hearing on the sewer bank system on June 4 at the Bethel Municipal Center. Knickerbocker said he anticipates the sewer bank system becoming a law sometime this summer.

“That's going to help our future business expansion on Greenwood Avenue a great deal,” he said.

In addition, Knickerbocker said the town will look to repair the existing sewer system.   “The flow from Bethel to the plant in Danbury is metered,” explained Knickerbocker. “You always know that in heavy rain the systems flow will go way up. What that means is our system is leaking and fresh rainwater is getting in.”

Knickerbocker said the town is planning to hire a company that “will be able to identify where things need to be repaired and then we'll have more capacity of actual waste flow into the plant, [in Danbury].”

In addition to increasing sewer capacity, Knickerbocker said the town is hoping to spur economic development on Greenwood Avenue by hosting more events and drawing people downtown, which helps support existing business and helps new business owners “discover that this is a nice place to start a business and start a retail shop.”

Long term, there are also plans to rezone areas around downtown and allow for more residential lots.  Town officials hope that will encourage more foot traffic on Greenwood Avenue. This plan is similar to the town's plan to develop the Route 6 Corridor.  With a mixture of smaller retailer stores and homes behind them, people will be able walk to the stores.

“You'll get a sense of community when you get people walking instead of driving,” Lennon said.

Longtime Greenwood Avenue business owners John Esposito and his brother Dennis have owned Disc & Dat record store for more than a decade. John said that Greenwood Avenue is not the same as it once was.

“It's changed, there's so many vacant stores and stores that are here, they're closed on Sundays so there's not too much to come here for on a Sunday because there's not a whole lot going on.” He added, “we'd like to see more stores. I think it would be good if the landlords lowered the rent to make it affordable to rent stores here.”

Esposito said he hoped town redevelopment efforts would help make Bethel “a cool town to come in and walk around.”

Knickerbocker said development on Greenwood Avenue has turned a corner and pointed to new businesses in Dolan Plaza such as Peachwave Frozen Yogurt and Byrd's Books.

“We are in much much better shape then we were two years ago. We have just a couple of retail spots and we're working with the property owners to try and help them attract tenets,” he said.

SmallMinds May 23, 2012 at 12:33 PM
Could we separate the "gray water" waste from the actual harmful waste water to alleviate the crunch? Gray water is the effluent from things like washing machines and dishwashers that don't contain the nastiness of toilet flushes. It is waste but does not need the kind of treatment that raw sewage needs and maybe does not have to be sent all the way to Danbury.
David Drazul May 23, 2012 at 01:17 PM
I doubt that the landlords would be willing to pony up the money required to have two separate plumbing systems (neither would taxpayers). Then there's the question of, where does the gray water go?
John Thorson May 23, 2012 at 02:12 PM
It would help pedestrian traffic if something could be done about the telephone poles that are obstructing foot traffic.
harry freud May 23, 2012 at 02:30 PM
developement is good providing people remember"flood".the more concrete & buildings the less runoff during a heavy rainstorm.just look at the mess stratford had for years on their main st.cutting down greenery just leaves more water thats not absorbed.this problem is never mentioned till its too late.contact some of the retailers in darien who have been flooded numerous times.if this problem developes all taxpayers are on the hook for the fix.
MensaMind May 23, 2012 at 02:30 PM
Great idea, smallbrain, where would you put the "gray water"? Storm Drains? Most reuse of greywater is to store and use for toilet flushing, and the reason one place would invest the capital so another developer can build?
Paul Improta May 23, 2012 at 02:59 PM
Here a question I don't see asked or answered: How much would Danbury charge Bethel to expand capacity? Has anyone asked?
Chris Barnabo May 24, 2012 at 02:47 PM
Paul, it certainly looks like that could be an option. According to Danbury's Public Utilities report (http://www.danbury-ct.gov/content/21015/21087/21129/23057/default.aspx) they're processing an average of 9 million gallons of wastewater per day, with a plant capacity of 15 million gallons per day (http://www.hvceo.org/sewersdanbury.php , that report is admittedly dated!) They have a built-in allocation of 1 million gallons per day for "regional needs" which both Newtown and Brookfield have purchased a portion of - Bethel might be able to do the same. But it also appears we're still below our allocated flow (using 1.3MGD to 1.6MGD of our 2.0MGD capacity if I remember right, I seem to have lost that link), so reallocating our existing zoning for capacity and getting a better handle on what's actually being sent by eliminating storm runoff & verifying/upgrading the flow meters at the pumping stations may be a good & prudent first step.

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