Select Board doesn’t support grant to extend sewer

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Select Board doesn’t support grant to extend sewer
This drone photograph shows the intersection of Route 9 and Lawrence Street. (photo/Tami White)

NORTHBOROUGH – The Select Board did not voice its support to apply for a grant that would extend a sewer main down Lawrence Street to Route 9.

How this came about 

During the May 20 Select Board meeting, Planning Director Laurie Connors went before the board seeking letters of support for three grants, including a MassWorks grant in the amount of about $2 million to construct the sewer extension.

The opportunity to extend the sewer arose several months ago.

Owner of the Motel 6 Jayesh Patel went before the Zoning Board of Appeals seeking a waiver to have an active septic system because he was interested in working with the town on a project to extend the sewer.

His septic system had been found to no longer be functioning, leading to two options — replace his septic system at a cost of about $1.4 million or work to extend the sewer to the hotel.

Currently, the sewer ends at the intersection of Otis and Lawrence streets.

“Because this is a long-term goal to extend sewer to Route 9, we saw this as an opportunity for folks to join forces to accomplish this goal,” said Connors.

There are about 37 property owners along Lawrence Street and seven properties on the north side of Route 9 that could potentially benefit from a sewer extension. All of the properties that the sewer line passes would become eligible to hook in, Connors said. One of the parcels that would be served is the former Casa Vallarta, which Connors said has been closed largely because of a failing septic system.

Another parcel is a 21.13-acre property on Lawrence Street. She said the property owner is interested in a mixed-use development; the zoning district would allow a maximum of 178 units. The owner of the Lawrence Street site agreed to donate a parcel to accommodate the sewer pump station on the site.

The assumed sanitary flow for the sewer pump station was projected and then increased to 102,910 gallons per day, though Connors cautioned that the figure was a work in progress as the engineering was underway.

Department of Public Works Director Scott Charpentier said the 102,910 flow for the pump station would account for about 45% of the town’s available sewer capacity.

Connors said that MassWorks requires a shovel-ready project, and, in order to be competitive, the project should be a public-private partnership.

According to Connors, 100% of the design costs would be borne by Patel. The Lawrence Street property owner was also willing to donate a cash match to enhance the application.

Connors said she is not seeking any town money for the grant application.

Charpentier said that the betterment fee is $9,100 per residential unit. Additionally, there would be a $50 connection to sewer fee, a $50 road opening fee and a $50 trench fee in addition to the cost for the connection.

Connors said the average cost of a new septic system is about $30,000 plus. Residents with septic systems would not have to tie into the sewer unless their systems have failed.

“This is a tremendous benefit to the property owners because the cost of sewer hookup is significantly less than a septic system,” said Connors.

Select Board concerns

During the meeting, board members asked a number of questions, such as oversight, what would happen if the town didn’t get the grant and whether using the grant for sewer would eliminate the town’s ability to use it for other projects.

Lisa Maselli said the town needed to consider whether the sewer capacity could have been used better somewhere else.

“I’m concerned about the residents who are living on Lawrence that it’s not going to be something that they could easily afford. It’s a big jump,” said Maselli.

She voiced her support for reaching out to residents for their interest in tying into sewer.

“I appreciate the thought you put into this. I wish we had a lot more time to have reviewed it,” said Select Board member Laura Ziton. “I love the idea of doing public-private partnership. I love the idea of identifying projects that were outlined in the Master Plan. I would rather if we did it as a collaborative approach, and not being reached out [to] – it feels kind of last minute – by developers to use this money.”

She said, “If there’s a risk that if we don’t go forward, my gut would be let’s postpone a year and spend some time and figure out what we can do from a public-private partnership that will benefit the whole community.” 

Ziton noted that Town Meeting approved zoning for MBTA communities, and other developments may come up. She said she would appreciate it if the board could take a more collaborative approach to what could be applied for to benefit the whole community.  

Connors noted that there has to be a development agreement.

“[Developers] don’t usually come to me and say, ‘In five years, I want to do a development. So, therefore, I’m going to give you this period of time to plan for it,’” she said. 

Developers may provide a couple months of heads up.

“Chances are, if we don’t go forward, we’re going to miss the boat because the Motel 6 is going to install a septic system. This is pretty much our one opportunity to go forward at this time in order to extend the sewer to Route 9,” said Connors.  

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