When people in Bethel talk about sewer allocations emotions are often raw.
At a June 4 public hearing a proposal for a new Sewer Allocation Program encountered fierce opposition. Several members of the Planning and Zoning Commission voiced their opposition to the proposed program, saying that it undermined the authority of their commission. In addition property owners on Route 6 complained that the fee structure of the proposed allocation program would mean they would have to pay thousands of dollars in order to receive adequate sewer capacity.
However, Bethel First Selectman, Matt Knickerbocker, said opposition to the proposed program stemmed from a misunderstanding.
“I personally don't believe we should be charging a business entity for allocation that they should have in their zoning,” he said.
The proposed program calls for the creation of sewer bank that would allow Bethel to transfer sewer allocations from properties that did not need allocations, (such as cemeteries or public parks) and transfer them to new developments that needed extra sewer capacity. The problem critics had with the proposed sewer bank was that use of the allocations in the sewer bank would require additional fees. As the proposal is currently written the potential developers of a large commercial and residential development being considered for the Stony Hill Inn property would have to purchase close to half a million dollars worth of sewer allocations from the sewer bank.
Knickerbocker said that that number was a mistake.
“We never really considered what [our sewer bank fee]would do to a big commercial property.”
He said that fees described in the proposals were meant to apply to developments of a much smaller scale, for example a one resident house that was subdividing to become a two resident house.
“In a case like that for a fee of like $1200 bucks you can change that allocation,” he said. “It was never our intention to have a project like the Stony Hill Inn project pay a half a million.”
The Sewer Allocation program will be voted on within 30 days of the Public Hearing and Knickerbocker said there would likely be some changes made to it before the vote in order to eliminate the high fees developers of large projects would currently have to pay.
Bethel sewer is treated in Danbury. Bethel can send Danbury an average of 2 million gallons of sewage per day. These sewer allocations are split into three districts. About 1.3 million gallons are allocated for downtown Bethel, another 6 hundred thousand gallons are allocated to the Stony Hill Inn area of town, and about 80 thousand gallons are allocated for the Berkshire Corporate Park.
Bethel's Director of Public Works, Andrew Morosky, said that there is sometimes a disconnect between what is allowed by Zoning and what Bethel's sewer capacity can support. He said he understood why critics of the proposed Sewer Allocation program “want to see consistency between what the planning and Zoning Commission is doing and what the Public Utilities Commission is doing.” However, he added that sometimes the reality of Bethel's finite sewer capacity made it difficult. “The Public Utilities Commission is not in the business of establishing land use regulations but we do have a requirement to manage sewage flows coming from Bethel into Danbury,” he said. “I think there's stills some incompatibility [between the Public Utilities Commission and the Planning and Zoning Commission] and that needs to be addressed.”
The creation of the sewer bank could increase Bethel's sewer capacity but could prove to be only a temporary stop gap. Ultimately Bethel might have to limit development or buy more sewer allocations from Danbury – a potentially expensive undertaking for the town. Morosky said that Bethel would have decide how it wanted to handle sewer allocations as a community.
“It can't be a unilateral decision,” he said. “It's got to be a consensus of all the stake
holders, the Public Utilities Commission, Planning and Zoning, The Chamber of Commerce, Route 6 [property owners]. Everybody wants to see this done right. The Public Utilities Commission doesn't feel like it has all the answers or the authority to go out and do this on their own.”