Cawley to press utility issue at meeting

By Tom Joyce -

An issue concerning a lack of municipal water and sewer availability to certain property in Mount Airy is scheduled to be addressed by city officials Thursday for the second time within a month.

It was disclosed in early August that plans for a business along U.S. 52 in the city limits were being hampered because the site is not readily accessible to utility service needed for its operations. And officials said providing it through the extension of lines would be a costly proposition for either the business or local government.

This was accompanied by a report from a city engineer showing that the same problem exists at “dozens” of sites in Mount Airy due to being landlocked far from existing service lines or because of geographic and other factors such as lack of road frontage.

Commissioner Jon Cawley said this is understandable with property in remote locations, but it is hard to imagine water and sewer services not being readily accessible along a major highway such as U.S. 52 — where the unspecified business could be located.

After much discussion during an Aug. 4 meeting of the city Board of Commissioners, no solution was found to such problems, with city staff members directed to explore how other municipalities handle these situations from a policy standpoint.

And now the matter is back on the agenda, for a Thursday meeting of the commissioners to begin at 2 p.m.

Cawley is scheduled to make a water and sewer “request” then.

Precedent set?

In explaining that request Tuesday, Cawley mentioned a similar problem which emerged in 2013 with then-vacant property on North Street owned by a local dentist who wanted to construct an office/warehouse building for an existing family-owned business.

Although businesses previously had been located in the area of North Street in question, before it became vacant, no usable water line could be found there.

This led to the city awarding a $87,890 contract in November 2013 to extend a municipal water line to the site, which is near East Lebanon Street. The fact the dentist is a longtime taxpayer factored in to that decision along with the unusual nature of an inner-city area lacking water access.

“I thought we philosophically dealt with this issue at that point,” Cawley said Tuesday of such situations.

Then in 2014, another case came to light in which plans for a new office building, in the same vicinity on North Main Street, were being affected by no existing sewer lines being available to access.

In that case, the city also paid for a line to be extended to the property at a cost of up to $15,000.

Cawley said Tuesday that he understands how it would be cost-prohibitive for the municipality to extend lines to every such location.

In the present case of the property on U.S. 52 in southern Mount Airy near Newsome Street, which is owned by Gary Harold, the cost of supplying water and sewer service is estimated at $194,000.

But Cawley reiterated a previous concern that with locations within the city limits, especially along major routes, there is a reasonable expectation of utility service being accessible to a property line, with owners then responsible for tap-on and related charges.

He also repeated Tuesday an earlier point that if a site cannot be accessed without a huge expense, then the property should be declared “dead” and taxed at a lower rate than other parcels.

Cawley said he hopes to get a resolution of some kind during Thursday’s meeting.

Other business

Among other items Thursday afternoon, the city board is scheduled to:

• Vote to set a public hearing for the proposed rezoning of city recreation areas including Riverside Park, Westwood Park, H.B. Rowe Environmental Park, Tharrington School Park and Graham Field. Advance details were not readily available for this issue.

• Consider funding a brownfield assessment for the former Spencer’s Inc. property now owned by the city government, which is thought to be related to its environmental readiness for redevelopment.

• Discuss the acquisition of a sewer jet/vacuum truck.

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.

By Tom Joyce

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