UAJA places time limit on service approvals

The Centre Region Council of Governments General Forum considered a recommendation from the University Area Joint Authority on Monday that would put a time limit on service approvals for developers.

The UAJA Board of Directors took action March 16 to eliminate the halt on final sewer design approvals. The action took place after UAJA presented its case before COG on Feb. 22, saying a nutrient management plan is needed to determine how to provide nitrogen capacity to the plant so the region can continue to develop.

Following the action to eliminate the halts on design approvals. UAJA provided options to the Public Services and Environmental Committee on possible future action. An option endorsed by the committee seeks to “put a time limit on service approval, such that the service approval expires if construction is not underway within one year of the service approval letter.”

UAJA Executive Director Cory Miller spoke to the General Forum on Monday, saying the current system could cause developers to rush their developments to avoid potential nutrient management action.

Right now, he said, the first step of the process is obtaining a service approval letter from the UAJA. The authority has no way of making a developer abide by new regulations if new rules were developed.

The new regulation would be similar to a building permit, he said. Permits have time limits — when the time period is up, a developer has to reapply if he or she is not using it. The same rules apply to sewer permits.

“So this reapplication process would allow us to capture any regulatory changes that may have come up,” Miller said, “in particular, what might come about as we implement a nutrient management plan.”

If a developer is not building within one year of service approval, the developer would have to reapply, he said. The rule would not apply to any other sewer permits, and if no changes have been made to existing regulations, reapplication would simply be an administrative action.

However, he said, if changes have been made, the developer would be notified of what has changed and what rules apply.

Harris Township Supervisor Frank Harden said he was in agreement with the need for a regulation like this, but didn’t agree with the one-year timeframe. Harden said he preferred a three-year limit.

“If you talk to developers and builders, from the time they start submitting permit requests, it's sometimes six months before they start building,” he said. “Essentially, you could only have a six-month window to start your project.”

Harden motioned that the one year motion should be amended to three years.

Patton Township Supervisor George Downsbrough said he felt the motion was misguided and urged fellow officials to oppose, saying the cost should be borne by the widest user base possible.

“I believe this is not about development,” he said. “It’s about equity and fairness.”

Miller said if a developer is actively moving forward on a project, he or she is likely to get something going within a year. If not, reapplication is a simple matter and the developer will get the same letter as last time.

“The only thing this does is if there’s a regulatory or policy change ... it gives the opportunity to make sure the broadest body has the opportunity to participate in sharing those costs rather than excluding someone who got in early,” Miller said.

Harden’s amendment for three years failed on the floor. A majority of the forum passed the time-limit motion. Halfmoon Township and the State College Borough abstained.

Jeremy Hartley: 814-231-4616, @JJHartleyNews