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New rule may slow growth far from water lines

By Cindy Beamon

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CURRITUCK — A new rule adopted in Currituck could slow growth in northwest Moyock and other areas far from the reach of county water lines.

The rule enacted last week now mandates that all new subdivisions connect to county water no matter how far they are from a county water main.

Developers and landowners complain the cost for connecting will be too high for some properties in the areas of South Mills Road and Northwest Backwoods Road in northwest Moyock. In some cases, developers have said they would have to add three or more miles of eight-inch pipe to reach some properties, making them impractical for development.

Currituck commissioners voted 5-2 last week to amend the county’s unified development ordinance to require all new subdivisions to connect to county water.

Voting in favor of the change were commissioners Vance Aydlett, Paul Beaumont, David Griggs, Marion Gilbert and Paul Martin. Chairman Paul O’Neal and Butch Petrey voted against the mandate. Both favored keeping the county’s former method of determining how much developers should pay for water line connections.

Griggs, who voted for the change, said the new mandate is a matter of “pay me now or pay me later.” Either the developer pays upfront to connect now, or the county will have to shoulder the burden sometime in the future, he said.

Griggs predicted residents in new subdivisions without county water would become unhappy with water quality or fire protection and, with the developer long gone from the project, turn to the county to fix the problem. The Board of Commissioners has already fielded complaints from residents of longtime subdivisions lacking county water and fire hydrants about high insurance rates, he noted.

In adopting the new rules, commissioners adopted a stricter policy than what the Currituck Planning Board recommended. The advisory panel favored a policy that would have required developers to pay for water line connections in proportion to the size of the development and distance from a county water main.

Under the current formula, a 30-lot subdivision that is about a quarter-mile from a water main would be required to connect to a county water source.  If the subdivision was farther out, the developer would still have to extend the line a quarter-mile but would not be required to connect until the county extends the line to that point.

Planning board members said their recommended policy would prevent developers from having to pay extraordinarily high water-connection fees while still contributing to growth of the county’s water system.

One landowner at Monday’s public hearing said the new rule will devalue his farmland because developers will no longer consider it a viable choice for a subdivision.

However, commissioners countered that exempting outlying areas from connecting to a county water source would actually encourage growth in areas without service. Building costs are less for developers if they not required to install costly infrastructure, Griggs said.

Commissioner Vance Aydlett was concerned about the county’s ability to provide fire protection services to subdivisions without hydrants. He said dry hydrants or fire ponds require more manpower, but volunteer fire departments are already struggling to enlist enough firefighters to maintain the services they already offer.

“My fear is we are going to allow development to get out to outlying areas farther away from fire departments, (requiring) longer response times, (while) we are losing manpower in our volunteer organizations. We are not requiring what I consider adequate fire protection out there,” said Aydlett.

O’Neal noted that landowners in the South Mills Road area still have the option to develop land according to what current zoning allows, which is one unit per three acres, without connecting to county water.

Commissioners elected not to delay the new mandate for six months. The Planning Board had recommended the delay to give developers with projects already designed the chance to move forward under the old rules.

The new rule does give developers a chance to recoup some of their costs for extending county water mains. The first to extend the line is eligible for reimbursement up to 50 percent of the cost if another development connects later.

Water lines are installed along about half the county’s 211 miles of roadway, but most properties are within a mile of the water mains. By Griggs’ estimate, it would cost the county $34 million to complete the job.

County Manager Dan Scanlon said the goal of the water system is to extend service countywide, but the effort could take a while. Debt for expansion of the county’s reverse-osmosis water treatment plant in Maple will prevent the county from extending water mains for the next 10 years, he said. Knotts Island and Gibbs Woods, which are not served by county water, and family subdivisions are exempt from the new rule.