The details still need to be
finalized, and the ordinance must be written and approved. But
one thing seemed clear following a Wednesday night workshop
held by the town’s board of commissioners.
Emmitsburg is poised to set limits on
residential and commercial growth. After weeks of discussion,
the board decided to restrict growth to help the town prevent
raw sewage spills and possibly reduce the fines it would face
if spill problems continue. The number of building permits the
town will issue annually will be determined after a study of
the sewer system is completed.
By the time that study is completed,
the growth ordinance is advertised properly, and a public
hearing is held, it likely will be February or March before
the restrictions are enacted. Also, because of changes
suggested, the limits may only last one construction season
instead of the three years initially discussed.
The decision seemed to be influenced
by a mysterious letter from the Maryland Department of the
Environment. The letter, which Commissioner Art Elder received
anonymously in the mail, said the department can limit sewer
connections if spill problems persist.
On Thursday, MDE officials verified
that the letter was legitimate but wouldn’t disclose the
citizen it was sent to because that person requested
The original concept of the growth
plan called for restricting new residential building permits
to 25 per year for three years while town infrastructure was
repaired. Permits would be issued based on a formula detailed
in the plan, and the board reserved the right to issue up to
five extra permits each year for hardship cases.
By the meeting’s end, however, the
commissioners seemed intent on raising the number of permits
allotted annually and condensing the restriction period.
Because the measure is tied to
sewer-system problems, the board seemed set on reevaluating
the situation two months after the North Sewer Trunk
Rehabilitation Project is completed and possibly removing the
limits the following month. The replacement-line project is
expected to be completed in late 2004.
Commercial and industrial permits,
which had been excluded, seem certain to be added to the
ordinance in some form.
The commissioners moved toward
imposing the restrictions after John Clapp, the town’s
attorney, told them they could limit building. He said placing
caps on building wasn’t "inherently impermissible" in Maryland
and that he found no case law in which state courts ruled on a
challenged building restrictions.
Mr. Clapp also advised the board to
tie its action to its sewage concerns, to have a plan in place
to get the problems fixed, and to lift the restrictions once
adequate repairs are made.
Developers have argued that the town’s
last opportunity to slow construction is in final plat
approval for a subdivisions. Mr. Clapp, however, said plat
approval doesn’t provide a vested right to a building permit.
Town Manager David Haller told the
board that the town faces hefty fines if sewage spills
continue to be a problem. Though there were no spills during
the drought in 2002, he said there have been three or four in
the last year, including one major one.
Town officials believe the sewer line
slated for repairs next year is the major source of wildwater
infiltration in the town. Emmitsburg’s wastewater treatment
plant routinely exceeds its design capacity when a few inches
of rain falls, and Mr. Haller said that North Sewer Trunk is
"just about totally collapsed."
Read other news stories related to the Emmitsburg Town