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Sewer study needs work

"Sewers promote growth. Do not! Do too!We can already hear the debate that will come with the new south-end sewer plan, released in draft form last Friday. A year in the making, the document is long on technical data - cost estimates for homeowners, where to put a force-main line or a charmingly named grinder pump - but fails to answer an essential question:What will extension of sewer lines mean for south-end zoning?A few vague assurances and formal resolutions by the city and the Fort Ward sewer district are no guarantee that new lines can't at some point be used to force upzones on neighboring parcels. Like it or not, the state Growth Management Act makes the regional hearings board a player in local planning decisions. And with the whole island a designated urban growth area, new infrastructure today has clear implications for zoning decisions a decade or more down the road.We say, someone in the city attorney's office needs to do a little legwork, and present the council and the community with a report on the current case law on sewers and zoning. That information should be incorporated into the sewer plan itself.No one disputes the need for sewer service in the Emerald Heights neighborhood and elsewhere, where septic failures pose an ongoing risk to public health.But until the city can clear up the big question - can sewers be used to boost housing density in the future - the plan will have little support with anyone who doesn't plan to hook up now.'Read me'In other news, we can report that city hall is attempting to take some of the fine out of fine print.The city council has approved new public-notice signs - big ones at that - to call neighbors' attention to significant land-use proposals like subdivisions and such in their areas. The signs were the inspiration of Councilman Michael Pollock, and were shepherded by others through the council's community relations committee.It covers everything that's covered in the little black print in the newspaper (legal notices), Councilwoman Christine Nasser told us this week, with prototypes now on display at the planning department counter.The signs will include the type of permit sought, the name of the applicant, and the dates of any public hearings that are slated. They'll be posted back to back, in view of neighboring properties and roadways, and will be visible from the water if appropriate. Also, by ordinance they must be posted within five days of permit application, and must be replaced if vandalized or damaged by weather. It occurs to us that in running the pictures here without something to give them a sense of scale - planted next to a backhoe, maybe - readers may not notice the difference. In fact, the signs measure about 28 inches across and 22 inches up and down. We like this move for a variety of reasons, among them Councilwoman Liz Murray's observation that neighbors will have less excuse to complain about not being informed.I think people who care will be alerted, and they'll spread the word, Murray told us.The new notice requirements go into effect Dec. 11. We suspect you'll see a sign in your own neighborhood soon. "

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