Something smells up in Clearview Heights

By David F. Rooney

The odor of anger and hostility is wafting down to City Hall from Clearview Heights, as some — perhaps even most — residents remain convinced that the City is trying to put the screws to them over the long-awaited and long-debated sewer installation project.

This issue has been heating up in recent weeks with angry letters sent to City Council from area resident Alan Dennis, backed up by what he says is a majority of residents.

Residents are, he says, deeply concerned about what is perceived as an attempt by the City to foist all of the costs onto the shoulders of CPR Hill residents, when it could bear a portion of the cost by including its own properties in the sewer line development. The sewer will cost well over $1 million in total with $419,259 being contributed by the federal government’s stimulus program.

“What incentive do they have to see the project at least close to budget if they have no direct interest?” Dennis said in an e-mail to The Current after last Tuesday’s City Council meeting. “All cost overruns are paid by the LSA (Local Service Area) owners. If the City has several lots in the Phase 1 then they may be more careful in their work.”

The City owns a number of vacant lots on CPR Hill that could be developed in the future. Dennis and other landowners on the hill want the City to include those lots in the sewer development project and, as a result, pay a portion of the sewer development just like any other landowner.

“If the City can show some way that they are stakeholders in this deal that’s fine,” says Dennis. “Otherwise all problems with the project will be paid out of our pockets. And the City ends up with an immediate benefit due to increased taxes from us and the capital infrastructure paid by us so they can hook up many parts of Phase 2 easily and cheaply.”

But some residents recognize that the City can’t afford, or at least says it cannot afford, any additional costs at this time.

Residents also don’t like the lineal-frontage approach that the City is taking in aportioning costs to landowners.

Public Works Director Brian Mallett says that under the Community Charter the City is allowed to allocate costs either by lineal frontage, area or by fixed rate per lot. The City has opted for the lineal frontage approach, which works out to a cost of $137.74 per linear foot of frontage. If the cost per landowner was calculated according to the area of their lots they would pay $6.94 per square meter. The fixed price per lot is calculated at $15,881.95.

In a report to Council, Mallett said “there are only 10 of the 62 lots in the LSA that have disproportionately small taxable frontages compared to area.”

“While these lots could be further subdivided the number of additional lots will be restricted by access requirements, topography and geotechnical considerations,” he said in the report. “If a fixed price per lot method was used to allocate construction costs then those property owners with smaller lots with no potential to subdivide would face increases while those owners with larger lots with some potential to subdivide would see a decrease.

“While the current method of allocating the construction costs based on lineal taxable frontage is not perfect, it does provide a reasonable proportioning of the construction costs to larger lots which may have some potential for further subdivision.”

Mallett also said that “changing the method of how the construction costs are allocated may create problems for the City if it were challenged.”

Councillor Chris Johnston had an astute observation about the situation: “Whichever way you do it somebody’s going to win and somebody’s… not. The fairest way is clearly the lineal frontage method.”

Mayor David Raven said Tuesday that Council wants to proceed with the project as soon as possible because there are some serious time constraints. The stimulus money was made available on the understanding that the project was “shovel ready” and it must be completed within a certain time frame. A significant holdup could jeopardize the City’s access to that federal cash.

“Any group can come here (to Council and speak),” he said. “We are not trying to be exclusionary but the ultimate decision lies with City Council.”