Officials continue Centre Region growth boundary, sewer discussions

After Tuesday’s special Executive Committee meeting, Centre Region officials generally agreed that the growth and public sewer service boundaries should remain separate, but be moved together.

The discussion included more detailed ideas and follows an initial special meeting in early July and ongoing discussion about possible policy changes related to how the region’s public sewer service is extended.

Talks on the policy began after a particularly difficult process related to Calvary Baptist Church’s application for sewer service in Harris Township, just outside the growth boundary. That process resulted in initial denial, a court case and a settlement allowing the church sewer service with conditions.

Officials agreed that, while there could be exceptions to extending sewer service beyond the growth boundary, used to guide development and prevent sprawl, the growth boundary should not extend beyond the sewer service line.

Patton Township Chairman Elliot Abrams offered an example of development on large lots outside the growth boundary, which generally use septic systems.

“It might be advisable to put sewer in those areas and the sewer area would have to move, but not the regional growth boundary,” he said.

Patton Supervisor Josh Troxell said key issues are defining the two boundaries and their uses and flexibility. He said Patton’s board considers the sewer service area boundary a public health tool and the growth boundary a land management tool.

Troxell also offered the concept of giving municipalities more control over smaller projects and setting criteria for those. The municipalities could then approve some sewer extensions without full regional approval.

At June’s General Forum, the meeting of all six municipalities, officials worked through and agreed to change from unanimous to supermajority — 5-1 — the vote required to allow a sewer extension when it triggers a development of regional impact process.

A point of contention during the Calvary process was that one municipality’s opposition derailed the request. Now it will take two.

Troxell explained a cap-and-trade setup for smaller projects, in which officials could choose a maximum numbers of units municipalities could approve on their own.

It could create “checks and balances on municipalities, that you can’t put 1,000 units in Patton Township just because you have that authority,” he said.

Abrams added that officials could put a sunset date on such a program, in case the experiment doesn’t work as intended.

Centre Regional Planning Agency Director Jim May said the character of growth outside the boundary remains important and that, to Troxell’s idea, the region must ensure one municipality’s development is not to the detriment of others.

“The only thing that really concerned us is how big it could be and the cumulative impact of these over time,” he said.

Officials also discussed how the policies would impact businesses looking to locate or expand in the region.

“If we’re trying to promote people trying to locate here, one of the things they look at is how hard it is to access public utilities,” said Halfmoon Township Chairman Mark Stevenson.

The conversation likely will continue next month, as May and his staff compile more information and work on definitions for the two boundary lines.

“You have to make some hard decisions if you want to keep the character of the region,” he said, with more rural uses outside the growth boundary. “I know municipalities want flexibility.”