On August 13, the Town of Old Lyme will vote to decide whether to borrow $9.5 million to finance the installation of sewers for commercial and residential properties in Sound View, and an adjacent neighborhood just north of Shore Road called “Miscellaneous Town Area B.”
It’s our understanding that state law gives municipalities broad discretion in how they choose to charge for sewers – fair or not, that’s a high bar for shoreline property owners now considering legal avenues if the referendum is approved.
But, how is it fair that seasonal residents are forced to pay for a school system they never use, and town residents are not similarly required to share the burden of shoreline sewers?
That’s a great question many are asking, but one I’m afraid that has a clear and contrary answer — at least if we are to believe Dennis Greci, for years the state’s official in charge of such projects. While outlining a variety of other possible and more equitable methods of cost-sharing, Greci nevertheless called such arrangements “common practice.”
All that said, considered as a community, it would appear that Sound View residents will have an uphill climb to convince the courts to block the arrangement proposed for Old Lyme.
Considered as a matter of individual property rights, however, the state statutes are equally clear that the “sum of initial and subsequent assessments shall not exceed the special benefit accruing to the property.”
That’s likely a matter for the Superior Court in New London, and perhaps a binding judgement by a court-appointed referee.
Is the town requiring Sound View residents to pay more than the “special benefit” of installing sewers? And if so, who pays the difference? Is the cost redistributed within the WPCA or are excessive costs shifted to the town?
That’s one of a number of questions we’d like answered before the town puts the issue to a vote on August 13. Here are a few more…
- Lower incomes
We have been told that there are number of elderly and lower-income year-round residents in Sound View.
Has the town considered deferring the benefit assessment, or carrying the debt until the property changes hands, to avoid such residents losing their homes?
CGS § 7-246 allows a WPCA to prepare and periodically update a water pollution control plan for Old Lyme. That plan must designate areas that are currently served by sewers, areas where sewers are planned, and areas where sewers are to be avoided. However, the law does not require the plans be approved by the board of selectmen.
Will the ordinance establishing the WPCA include a provision to require approval by the board of selectmen or by town meeting?
Are there other opportunities in the process to include oversight by the public or its elected officials?
What, if any, areas will be designated for sewer avoidance, or planned for sewers?
Will town officials and commissions constrain development for the newly-sewered shoreline communities? And by accepting Clean Water Funds, what limits are placed on future development?
How can constraints on development be reconciled with betterment fees equaling significant fractions of existing property values? If betterment fees are calculated as a ratio of livable square footage, is it tenable to later constrain this square footage after sewers are installed?
Given that undeveloped residential lots cannot be assessed for a future benefit, how will the town deal with these properties after a WPCA is established?
Given the number of derelict commercial buildings on Hartford Avenue, how will the redevelopment and use of these properties be constrained under the proposed arrangement?
- Obligations for the town
The Old Lyme Police station is located in Miscellaneous Town Area B. In May, provisional assessment suggested that sewering the property will cost the town $40,923.12.
Aside from that property, what other financial obligations or potential obligations will the town incur as part of the agreement — whether as a matter of appealed assessments, abandoned properties, delinquent payments, etc.?
- Legal Advice
Has the town hired an attorney with a specialty in WPCAs to review the WPCA process and agreement?
What is a timeline of work needed to be completed prior to the referendum on August 13?
If the referendum fails to pass on August 13, what (if any) deadline is there for losing Clean Water Funds? What are the town’s next steps?
If the referendum passes on August 13, what is the timeline of steps until the completion of the project?
What provisions have been made for the WPCA to reassess any properties that are expanded after the initial assessment?
- Equitable Upper Limit
Has the WPCA considered establishing an “equitable upper limit” on betterment fees for properties in Sound View?