Supervisors Defer Action on Experimental Sewer System at Ballenger Bluff

By Heather Michon

A short agenda turned into a long session for the Board of Supervisors on Wednesday (May 19), as a public hearing over a special use permit for a proposed housing development’s wastewater system stretched on for over two hours — only to end in a deferred decision.

Developer Tim Miller began the permitting process for a tract of land off Courthouse Road, east of Palmyra village, in September 2020. Originally, Ballenger Bluff was planned for 48 single-family homes on a 124-acre property.

Residents in the Courthouse Road neighborhood have opposed the project from the start, arguing that the scant water resources in that part of the county would be further depleted by the addition of so many new homes.

During a public hearing before the Planning Commission in January, more than a dozen residents spoke out on their own ongoing issues with failing and dry wells, and their fears about the impact of Ballenger Bluff.

The commission deferred a decision until its March meeting, by which point Miller had amended his original proposal, reducing the development down to 20 homes on 48 acres.

The issue before the Board of Supervisors on Wednesday night was a request for a special use permit for a centralized sewer system for the development.

Rather than install 20 individual septic systems and drainfields, Miller instead proposed a cluster system, where four homes share a single tank and drainfield. Under this plan, Ballenger Bluff would have four treatment tanks serving 16 homes, leaving only four properties with traditional septic systems.

Project consultant Mike Clarke of EnviroKlean explained that the system works like a miniature municipal wastewater treatment plant. Since graywater would be additionally treated with UV light, it would actually be cleaner than conventional wastewater plants.

While shared tank systems have been in use for many years, Clarke said this would be a first for this type of rural cluster development. He told supervisors that he believes it could be a model for future developments in Virginia.

Under the county’s rules of subdivision, Miller wouldn’t need a permit if he was just installing traditional septic systems. A centralized system, even a small one, requires local and state approval.

Douglas Miles of the Planning Department said he and his staff were satisfied with the plan and the Blue Ridge Health Department agreed it was the best system for the property. Unlike individual septic systems, the centralized system would be subject to periodic inspections and testing by the Health Department and would have to be maintained by licensed technicians.

However, during public comments, area residents argued that the system is still too experimental and worry that multiple houses sharing one tank could easily exceed the amount of wastewater a system could handle in a day, potentially impacting their adjacent properties.

Miller, for his part, objected to the Planning Department’s conditions regarding the length of time he would have to maintain a bond on the system. He also complained about County Attorney Fred Payne having oversight of the bond.

Payne dismissed Miller’s comments, noting that as county attorney “I approve all subdivision bonds.” He said bond provisions outlined by the Planning Department were not unusual. Supervisors Patricia Eager (Palmyra), who has experience in developing a subdivision, agreed on both points, saying developers often have to hold a bond for many years.

The discussion between the supervisors focused on two main points: the novelty of the centralized system and the fears of residents over its potential long-term impact.

Supervisor Mozell Booker (Fork Union) said she wanted to be sensitive to the concerns raised by locals and wondered why the disconnect between the staff’s strong recommendations and the residents’ fears. “Can we not explain or convince them that it’s a good thing?” she asked.

Ultimately, there were enough lingering questions about the centralized system to keep the board from making a decision without more information.

Mrs. Booker called for the motion to be deferred, which passed 5-0.

After further discussion, they decided to revisit the motion at the June 16 meeting, asking staff to set a presentation from the Health Department to try to resolve question from the public about the safety of the system.

With two and a half hours of discussion behind them, they took a rare mid-meeting recess before moving on to the rest of the agenda.

At the start of the evening, the supervisors tackled a much easier special use permit request from Amy and Joshua Bower, who hope to become the new owners of the Thistle Gate Vineyard near Scottsville. The permit would allow them to hold special events like receptions and 5K to100K runs on the property as part of their expansion plans.

Chairman Mike Sheridan (Columbia), who knows the couple, temporarily handed the gavel to Vice Chair Tony O’Brien (Rivanna) so he could personally make the motion — something he cannot do while chair. Once the vote in approval of the special use permit was taken, he resumed his previous role.


Related Posts

dewi88 cuanslot dragon77 cuan138 enterslots rajacuan megahoki88 ajaib88 warung168 fit188 pusatwin pusatwin slot tambang88 mahkota88 slot99 emas138