Bath Planning Board recommends comprehensive plan changes to council
BATH — The Planning Board on Tuesday approved two language changes in the city's comprehensive plan update which pertain to the extension of public water and sewer lines.
The board will bring those changes before the City Council during a workshop Wednesday, Aug. 12, and the council will later render a decision on the comprehensive plan update as a whole.
The changes were prompted by a July 16 letter from Trevor Hunt, superintendent of the Bath Water District, who called the majority of the plan "well thought out" but added that "we do not agree with the continuation of the policy of ‘not extending public sewer or water lines across Whiskeag Creek into North Bath.' We further do not agree with not allowing public water to be extended into areas where lowered pressure and volume would require a booster pump station, such as the elevated land in the southern end of the City on the west side of High Street."
Hunt pointed out that by their legislative charters, water systems are obligated to serve potential customers within their territory "or are able to extend a main without cost to the District, to provide water for domestic and fire protection needs. Both these areas have potential for growth."
He said it is in the water district's best interest to support added customers in order to create greater future rate stability for existing customers.
Bath Planning Director Jim Upham argued in a July 27 letter to David Calhoun, chairman of the water district board of trustees, that the extension of sewer or water lines into rural areas stands in direct opposition to one of the state's 10 comprehensive planning goals, which is to avoid development sprawl.
"In addition to meeting the 10 state goals, comprehensive plans also must designate ‘growth areas' and ‘rural areas,'" Upham explained, adding later that "It has been shown time and time again that the extension of public sewer or water infrastructure encourages development growth. Even if done at no cost to the district, extending public water mains into rural Bath will encourage development there."
Upham also pointed out that in order for a municipality's plan to be found consistent with Maine's Growth Management Act – which gives municipalities extra points when applying for grants – the plan must meet the 10 state goals and the designate growth and rural areas.
"Our proposed plan has been found consistent with the state law and, in fact, the plan has been found by the State Planning Office to be of such quality that they feel it should be used as a model for other communities," Upham wrote.
Planning Board member Donald Rogers expressed concern that a tool was being used in preventing urban sprawl that he did not think was appropriate.
"We're denying people clean, safe water, we're denying them fire safety, we're increasing their cost for homeowners insurance because they live further away from the city and from a ready supply of water for firefighting purposes," Rogers said. "I think that the Planning Board has other tools that we can use, to prevent urban sprawl or condense growth outside of our urban area, other than this."
The board ultimately unanimously approved two language revisions in the comprehensive plan. One now states that the city's policy will be to continue to not extend city-subsidized public water and sewer to rural areas.
Upham pointed out that it would be appropriate for a developer, rather than the city, to absorb those costs.
The other revision calls for a developer – who is extending public water and sewer from the existing Bath Water District system into a medium density area of the city – to provide the Planning Board with a design for water service which is as safe as the existing system, and which would not be subsidized by the city.
In situations where proper volume and pressure from water district facilities could not be provided in a future land use area that has no public water and sewer, that area would have to adhere to low density residential standards, Upham said.
If the developer can demonstrate that he can safely provide service to a neighborhood that is elevated above the existing water district's service area, the development would be considered medium density and would be able to adhere to those standards, Upham said. If the developer cannot demonstrate the same level of safety, the development would have to adhere to low density standards.
The Planning Board's Aug. 12 workshop with the City Council begins at 6 p.m. in the City Hall auditorium.
Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or firstname.lastname@example.org.