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December 11, 2007

Sewer capacity stalls North Pointe development

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The first site plan which would launch the residential construction of the North Pointe development has been denied by Albemarle County, in part, because of inadequate sewer capacity.  Developer Richard Spurzem’s 188 home proposal was denied by County staff on November 26, 2007.  Officials with the Albemarle County Service Authority (ACSA) indicate that, until new sewer capacity and pumping stations are designed and built, any new construction at North Pointe is unlikely to move forward.

Northpointe20071211 When the North Pointe rezoning was approved in 2006, one of the unresolved issues related to the details of the 900-home development’s sewer system.  The plan proposed a new sewer pumping station that would handle the majority of the development.  Exactly how that station would be connected to the network of pipes leading to the Moore’s Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant near downtown Charlottesville was not specified.  However, about 40 acres of residential development in the northwest corner of the 264 acre project were shown by the developer, Great Eastern Management, to be connected to the existing Camelot Waste Water Treatment Plant on the Western side of Route 29. 

Gary Whealan, a civil engineer with the Albemarle County Service Authority (ACSA), assessed the site plan and determined in early October that “there is no capacity for sanitary sewer” at the Camelot facility.  Whealan told Charlottesville Tomorrow that the 10 inch sewer line feeding into Camelot cannot handle any additional users. 

ACSA is one of two customers of the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority (RWSA), the other being the City of Charlottesville.  The RWSA currently operates the Camelot facility which was built in 1988 and is operating at full capacity.  Instead of putting more money into a facility that needs repair and expansion, Tom Frederick, RWSA’s Executive Director, says he would support abandoning the facility in favor of connecting all of North Pointe to a new pump station.  “Through our discussions with ACSA, the preference is for a regional pumping station,” Frederick told Charlottesville Tomorrow.

Richard Spurzem has had past legal disputes with Albemarle County.  In 2005, Albemarle lost a court case with Spurzem that sought to deny the by-right development of Gazebo Plaza in the Pantops area near Interstate 64.  At Pantops, transportation capacity and safety were among the County and VDOT’s concerns.  Now at North Pointe, Spurzem’s development plans have hit another snag with the community’s inadequate sewer capacity.

While Spurzem declined to comment for this article, he has already written one letter to the County Planner managing his project demanding “appropriate action to enforce the County’s legal obligations.”  In that letter, Spurzem was seeking a timely decision on his preliminary site plan.  The County responded with a denial and a six-page list of items detailing concerns about sewer capacity and other items where the plan was found to not be in compliance with the original North Pointe rezoning.

Herbert White, President of WW Associates, maintains that the sewer design is exactly what the County should have been expecting.  WW Associates is Spurzem’s engineering firm and White points to the rezoning plan as evidence that the homes in this corner of North Pointe were to have their sewer flow by gravity feed to an existing pumping station on the other side of Route 29.  To reverse the flow towards a proposed pumping station inside the North Pointe development would, according to White, require pipes installed inside a 45’ vertical grade.  In his letter of October 15, 2007, White told Albemarle that “installing sewer at these depths is not feasible.”  White also suggested that if the Camelot plant was not an option, a second pump station may be necessary for his client.

Peter Gorham, ACSA’s Engineering Director, told Charlottesville Tomorrow that the authority has consistently advised the developers since 2001-2002 that using Camelot was not an option.  “From the very first time we saw that plan, and saw the proposed gravity line, we said that is not a feasible option,” Gorham said.

Jeff Werner is the Field Officer for the Piedmont Environmental Council and someone who closely followed the North Pointe project and who raised concerns about the sewer plan’s uncertainties. 

“Many people in this community have been asking if the infrastructure is in place for new developments.  This is a disappointment,”  said Werner.  “A benefit of the whole rezoning process is to get developments to pay for themselves.  This is a disappointment that the County missed an opportunity to add additional sewer capacity.  The developer should pay their way.”

When asked about the approved North Pointe rezoning plans that show Spurzem’s property utilizing Camelot, the ACSA’s Gorham said those drawings were incomplete and not a formal engineering proposal for the development’s sewer needs.  According to Gorham, “A regional pump station still looks like the most cost effective option.  The next step is to get that station scoped and under design.”  Gorham expects the single regional pump station will be satisfactory for Spurzem’s needs.  Where that station is located, who will operate it, how much it will cost existing customers, and when it will be operational all remains to be decided.

In the case of other recently approved large developments like Biscuit Run (3,100 homes) and Hollymead Town Center Area A2 (1,228 homes), developers have had to sign memorandums of understanding with the Albemarle County Service Authority detailing arrangements by which they would pay to expand sewer capacity.  North Pointe (900 homes) was rezoned before local officials started seeking those commitments in advance of project approvals by the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors.  Gorham says those negotiations will take place in the near future with all the existing users of the Camelot facility, like the University of Virginia North Fork Research Park, as well as new users in North Pointe.  The ACSA will be taking the lead to bring these parties together and to get a new regional pump station added to the Service Authority’s capital budget.

Charlottesville Tomorrow asked Gorham if new development at North Pointe would be delayed until the pump station is online.  “Yes, that’s correct,” said Gorham.  However, if that pump station is designed to connect to a sewer line known as the Powell Creek Interceptor, the RWSA’s Tom Frederick pointed out that the development might find more capacity problems downstream in RWSA's network.  “If [the ACSA] chose a route that uses Powell Creek, the capacity of that interceptor will also have to be assessed,” said Frederick. A comprehensive sewer interceptor study is already underway. It appears water and sewer officials, Spurzem, and the rest of the developers in North Pointe, have a lot of work to do before any new homes are occupied.

Brian Wheeler

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