Pilot School May Be Denied Sewer Access, Despite Eco-Friendly Design - Weiner: I will support the community.
There’s little debate that sewer is preferable to septic when it comes to waste disposal, particularly for a large facility like a 75,000-square-foot, 170-student school, [as proposed by Pilot School]. To that end, Weiner conceded that there were two pieces of public policy at odds with one another.
“There’s the goal of protecting the environment by encouraging sewer which is in conflict with the goal of protecting the suburban estate districts from over-development. The community was very clear it did not want an exception given for residential,” Weiner said. “The only context an exception has come up was for institutional uses, but unless there was community support, I wouldn’t sponsor it” [i.e. a rezoning or code change].
Eco-friendly school may be denied sewer access
By Jesse Chadderdon
Posted Sep 15, 2008 @ 02:32 AM
Last update Sep 15, 2008 @ 03:16 PM
Brandywine Hundred, Del. —
Pilot School officials, looking to relocate the school from its current Mt. Lebanon Road site to a more scenic and spacious locale on Woodlawn Road, have taken great pains to plan as “green” a building as possible, literally from top-to-bottom.
From an environmental perspective the plans are first-rate, from a vegetated roof to storm water infiltration to solar heating for the pool. A feasibility study of a geothermal climate control system is under way and even the building’s site orientation, set well back from the road on the 50-acre property, was chosen with the environment in mind, boasts Jerry Heisler, the land use attorney who is voluntarily helping guide the school through New Castle County’s land use approval process. (It provides maximum protection to the steeply-sloped wooded portion of the property that buffers the Brandywine Creek from Concord Pike.)
But for all the wonderful environmentally-sensitive features incorporated into the design, it’s quite possible that when toilets are flushed at the school, sewage will percolate into a septic system under an open field adjacent to the building - a far less environmentally-desirable option than using the county's sewer system.
A sewer pump station, with plenty of excess capacity, literally sits across the street from the property, but the school can’t use it.
That’s because the county’s Unified Development Code prohibits properties zoned “Suburban Estate” – like this one – to access the county’s sanitary sewer system. The rule is rigid, in place as a deterrent to overdevelopment in the vast open natural areas of the Brandywine Valley. Essentially, there is a fear that the farther the sewer grid intrudes into the area, the more single-family, McMansion-style subdivision will pop up there.
As far as the code is concerned, it is inconsequential whether the project in question is a school or a housing development, or whether the property directly borders a hotel, restaurant complex and shopping center – commercial structures that are hooked into to the sewer system.
“Everything to the east is commercial in commercial zoning and on sewer,” confirmed Jason Zern, an operations engineer for New Castle County’s Department of Special Services. “It’s right next to where the existing sewer service area is.”
But the law is the law.
“It’s just not good public policy,” Heisler said. “Unless they change the code to allow for non-profit institutions to take advantage of the sewer that’s right there, we’re on septic.”
Councilman Robert Weiner (R-Chatham), whose district includes the property in question, said the question of allowing for sewer in the Suburban Estate districts located adjacent to sewer lines is not a new one.
Four years ago, the community of Applecross was built off Route 100 near Greenville, on the perimeter of that area’s sewer district.
“The community was very clear it did not want an exception given for residential,” Weiner said. “The only context an exception has come up was for institutional uses, but unless there was community support, I wouldn’t sponsor it.”
There’s little debate that sewer is preferable to septic when it comes to waste disposal, particularly for a large facility like a 75,000-square-foot, 170-student school. To that end, Weiner conceded that there were two pieces of public policy at odds with one another.
“There’s the goal of protecting the environment by encouraging sewer which is in conflict with the goal of protecting the suburban estate districts from over-development,” he said.
Zern said the issue was on the radar of policy makers within the county, and said the idea of a code amendment to allow for sewer for institutional uses on Suburban Estate properties has been discussed.
The other option for the school would be to seek a rezoning, but that Heisler said that process was expensive and time-consuming, and at the end there is no guarantee the request would be granted.
“We’ve got a site that works for septic,” he said. “So unless there’s a change, we’ll just go forward through the process.”
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