Vote taken on Bean Blossom sewer plant land

A sewer plant to serve Bean Blossom is now allowed to go on land at the base of Bean Blossom hill off State Road 135 North.

Whether or not it will be built there is still to be decided, as Brown County Parks and Recreation still owns that land, and the parks board hasn’t decided yet whether it will sell or transfer 5 acres of it to the Brown County Regional Sewer District Board for this purpose.

On Dec. 18, the Brown County Board of Zoning Appeals granted the sewer board a “special exception” to put a sewer plant at 4687 State Road 135 North. A special exception would be needed anyplace a sewer plant would go in the county.

The sewer board needed a decision because if the BZA wasn’t going to allow the plant here, there was no point in the sewer board and the parks board continuing their negotiations, said Kara Hammes, a parks board member who spoke at the hearing.

There’s a lot of other work related to the Bean Blossom sewer project and the money to fund it that’s going on now as well, said Clint Studabaker, the project manager and a member of the sewer board. One big hangup to getting any more of it done is that the board doesn’t have land yet, so this vote by the zoning board was the next domino that needed to fall.

Members of the audience — about 25 of them, even as the 6 p.m. zoning meeting ran past 9:30 — weren’t sure that a decision was that urgent. Several speakers asked the board to delay a vote until after the results of some sewer studies would be available early next year, including one that is looking at the feasibility and wisdom of Helmsburg and Bean Blossom working together to treat sewage. Right now, Helmsburg has its own sewer plant and board, and Helmsburg residents have seen their sewer bills more than double in the past two years. Bean Blossom, about 4 miles away, has no sewer option.

Several of the six county residents who spoke against this petition also questioned whether or not the area needs sewer access at all.

Zoning board Chairman John Dillberger told the crowd that that was not the question the zoning board was supposed to discuss. Its question was whether or not putting a sewer plant on this land would go against the intent of the zoning ordinance or “materially or permanently injure other property or uses in the same district or vicinity.”

The plan for this land did not meet the minimum “setback requirements” in the ordinance, or how far a structure should be from a property line. The minimum is 300 feet; the shortest setback in this plan would be 45 feet. However, there are no houses within 500 feet, and sewer board members said it had been difficult over the past 20 years that they’d been discussing this project to find land that wasn’t too near homes and was also out of floodplain.

One neighbor to the land, Jake Adams, said that he bought his property on Gatesville Road around Memorial Day and he did not know at that time that the land behind him was being considered for a sewer plant. He said the field and woods in that area are his best view.

“When you think about land owned by parks and rec, I don’t think you imagine the smell and the sight of a sewage water treatment plant; you would imagine maybe trails, or leaving it as it is, because it is doing a service, doing the rest of Brown County a service,” he said.

Studabaker said that what Adams would likely see closest to him would be the office for the sewer plant, which they’d planned to look “like a cabin in the woods” with natural colors — and not so much of the actual sewer plant equipment. However, some of that equipment would have to be built going up a hillside behind the office.

Another neighbor, Richard Snodgress, who owns 108 acres abutting the proposed plant site, submitted a letter against this use. He also asked the board to wait until the sewer planning studies were completed, and to consider the ways that this might go against his reading of the county’s comprehensive plan.

After almost two hours of debate, the zoning board unanimously decided that putting a sewer plant on this land would be permitted.

Five people spoke in favor of that decision, including two Bean Blossom residents, plus the five people who made the initial presentation.

“I’ve watched Bean Blossom die,” said Debbie Larsh, a sewer board member and Bean Blossom resident, talking about the need for sewers, especially for businesses. “… I’ve watched everything leave, and I don’t want to see that in any part of Brown County.”

This special exception does not have to be approved by any other county board. However, there will be several other steps in the sewer-building process before anything could actually be done at this site, such as an environmental review, and a successful application to the State Revolving Fund and the USDA Rural Development program to get funding, estimated at $7.3 million earlier this year.

When asked about a time frame for a decision on a land transfer between the parks and rec board and the sewer board, Studabaker and sewer board President Mike Leggins said nothing was likely to happen until January at the earliest.

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