A week after a contingent of city leaders stormed a township meeting to voice concerns over a west side development the city won’t serve with water and sewer, city council appears ready to invest in infrastructure to help a north side development.
The difference? A nearly 40-year-old automatic annexation clause.
Saline City Council met for a work meeting at 6 p.m. Monday to discuss nearly a nearly $3 million investment in its east belt sewer line over two projects, in years 2020 and 2022.
Last October, city council learned about the condition of its sanitary sewers, storm sewers and wastewater treatment plant thanks to a $900,000 SAW Grant study mostly funded by the state. The city has long known about the limitations of its west belt sewer line, but city leaders were somewhat surprised to hear about capacity issues with its east belt sewer line.
Since then, the city has approved the annexation of Layher Farms for a 150-home development that would tie into the east belt sewer line.
City Superintendent Gary Roubal told council that city staff wants to submit the sanitary sewer permit application for the Layher Farms subdivision. But, he said, in order to receive approval from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, the city may need to approve a resolution showing it intents to improve two existing capacity restrictions in that sewer line.
There were mixed messages from council about how much the Layher Farms development is driving the decision to improve the east belt before the west belt.
Mayor Brian Marl said the work was necessary with or without Layher Farms.
“If, God forbid, the Layher Farms proposal went away, we would still have a problem. It’s important to note for the public record that these capital improvements will benefit existing residents as well as future residents,” Marl said.
Superintendent Roubal agreed – and noted that improving the sewer line will also help businesses grow in the industrial parks.
But as Tetra Tech’s Brian Rubel noted, when prioritizing the needs of the east and west belt, there are no obvious new connections to consider on the west belt – so clearly, future development is a factor.
That troubled several members of council, including Dean Girbach. Girbach said that for the Andelina Farms proposal on the city’s western border, council determined it would not ask existing residents to fund infrastructure for future residents. Yet now, the city was asking existing rate payers to fund improvements for future residents on the north side.
“Whatever we do, we need to be consistent,” Girbach said. “We are treating things differently. With some, we’ll let you annex in, but you’ve got to pay for everything. For others, it will be the existing users who pay.”
Councillor Christen Mitchell, one of the council members who asked township planners to reject the Andelina Farms proposal, echoed some of Girbach’s concerns.
“When I read this (proposal) I had just come back from the township meeting and I thought, why are we investing in this part of town when we’ve known for a while the west side is at capacity. I think we we need to answer that question,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell noted the Andelina Farm property, like the Layher Farms property, was listed as potential city property on the city’s land use plan. The Andelina Farms is listed on the plan as an “urban development area,” and that it is the “policy of the city that land included in (such areas) are ultimately brought under the jurisdiction of the city.”
But, Marl noted, there is a difference. In 1981, Saline and Pittsfield Township agreed that Layher Farms would one day automatically be annexed into the city.
“It’s always been planned to bring water and sewer to those parcels subject to automatic annexation. Andelina Farms was not part of an automatic annexation agreement,” Marl said.
Still, at the end of the discussion, all seven council members agreed that the east belt sewer line needs improvement and that it should be added to the city’s capital improvements plan.
The west belt sewer line will also be added, but it’s not scheduled to be improved until 2026.
“We should sharpen our pencils and if it’s feasible and prude, we can accelerate the timeline,” Marl said.
Councillor Mitchell said she’s noticed a pattern of the city being a little behind on its forecasting.
“We need to get on the horse, start off on a brisk gallop and do a better job planning,” Mitchell said.
Marl noted that the city is beginning to look at big-picture solutions. In fact, Marl noted, Superintendent Roubal was embarking on a siting study for a potential wastewater treatment plant. Council could have a work session on the matter as soon as July.