Murfreesboro city leaders are preparing an ordinance aiming to extend the timeline that new developments may connect to the sewer system that they said is nearing its capacity due to heavy growth and limits on expanding treatment plants.
Assistant City Manager Darren Gore, who oversees utilities, along with City Attorney Adam Tucker led a discussion on the issue last Wednesday with the Murfreesboro Planning Commission. The goal is to present the ordinance to the commission at its 6 p.m. meeting on Nov. 6. The commission will be asked to send the ordinance on to the Murfreesboro City Council with a recommendation.
Setting limits on growth
According to the briefing, the ordinance and an associated resolution will aim to allocate the future amount of sewer connectivity to commercial and residential developments. The goal is to protect “the long‐term sustainability of the sanitary sewer collection and treatment system as well as provide for future land development within the City’s urban growth boundary,” according to commission documents.
Whatever officials decide, it is expected to affect the density of future residential developments as well as zoning and annexation requests.
According to commission documents, the proposal includes these features:
• City Council sets by resolution the sewer capacity available to properties based on actual or projected land use.
• Application for allocation accompanies a proposed development’s request for a “will serve” letter (via MWRD’s pre‐existing policy).
• A process exists to petition the City Council for additional allowance above pre‐set allocation limits.
• At the time of application and “will serve” request, a 10 percent fee of the overall sewer connection fees and special sewer assessment fees are due for vesting of sewer rights for a 30‐month period.
The city’s growth during the last 20 years has dramatically increased the demand on the wastewater collection system. This increase is largely due to permitting development densities greater than originally projected, the documents say.
The City Council on Sept. 11 indicated preference for an option to set development density at 3.4 single-family-units (sfu) per acre, which was the city’s original goal, documents show. This would reserve 5 percent of the sewer allocation. A “sfu” is a unit of measurement used in measuring sewer capacity for residential and commercial projects.
The city in 2017 upgraded the capacity of its Water Resource Recovery Facility (sewer treatment plant) to treat another 31,000 sfus, documents say.
Weighing a project’s benefit
Acting Planning Director Matthew Blomeley told the commission the city may decide to determine a development’s density based on geographical location based on its economic benefit to the community. For example, they may decide a project in the urban core should be more dense than one on the fringes of the city.
The city is not changing its zoning, so no public hearings are required; however, the planning department recently met with stakeholders, Blomeley said. Planning Commission Chairwoman Kathy Jones asked Blomeley to consider communicating the changes to the public.
Gore said that the challenges include weather. Cold weather affects the sewer system’s water flow rate. Density affects how the waste arrives at the treatment plant too. The plant on the West Fork of the Stones River has a capacity level that is permitted by the Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation, Gore said.
Gore and City Councilmember/Planning Commissioner Eddie Smotherman discussed how that affects future developments that could take 15-20 years to build out. Gore said a consideration is the highest and best use for a project — does it create sales tax or generate the highest possible property tax or does it have the least impact on schools.
Planners and staff also discussed how this affects annexation. The use of STEP sewer systems was mentioned, which is a type of sewer that Consolidated Utilities District uses extensively in its service area. Smotherman called it a “septic tank on steroids.” Sam Huddleston, executive director for Development Services, said that while the city is required to provide services to an annexed area within five years, that does not include sewer.
Gore said, “We do have a finite quantity. You have to decide.”