PRWID Revisits Policy for Development Projects
After adjusting the agency's role in the approval process one year ago, the Price River Water Improvement District Board addressed concerns related to new subdivisions within Carbon County and PRWID's boundaries.
At the request of Carbon County officials in 2005, the PRWID board approved a policy requiring all new subdivisions to be reviewed by the water improvement district.
In addition to the county's permitting process, all developers must present plans for proposed subdivisions to the water district board for review.
After reviewing plans and addressing concerns related to water and sewer, the district sends a letter to the county stating whether the proposed subdivision will be serviceable as far as water and sewer.
The district also check the pressure and volume of water available from fire hydrants to ensure that adequate water will be available in case of a fire.
The district currently honors the statements made in the letter for a two-year period. After two years, the developer must appear before the board again.
However, issues arose regarding how to address the subdivisions which were already in the planning stages when the policy was adopted more than a year ago.
One of the developers, Jack Forrester, whose subdivision approval process predates the policy change appeared before the board regarding the takeover of lines in his development.
Working drafts of his contract regarding the takeover predate the policy change.
In the contract, Forrester had originally requested that the district guarantee water service for all phases of development on 80 acres.
Forrester has already built 20 lots and has space for some 50 to 60 more in future development.
In good faith that the terms of the contract would be honored, the developer installed the main water and sewer lines to service the additional build out.
However, in finalizing the contract, PRWID deferred to the water improvement district's policy of honoring water and sewer commitments for a maximum of two years.
"We're surprised on the changing of the rules at the end of the game," said Forrester's attorney, Michael Jensen.
After installing a 1,200 foot extension from PRWID's main lines and installing many of the internal service lines, Forrester has made a considerable invest ment into future development.
While the final contract was not signed until after the policy change, Forrester was working under the terms which were stated at the time he started the development.
A second concern specific to Forrester's contract is the request that the district administer a reimbursement program for future developers who connect to lines Forrester installed.
PRWID attorney Nick Sampinos pointed out that the terms of the contract were similar to other agreements into which the water improvement district had previously entered.
Some members of the board stated at a meeting earlier in November that they were leery of managing the financial matters of a third party.
However, after hearing that Sampinos was comfortable with the terms of the contract and that the administration would entail little work for district staff, the board allowed the reimbursement clauses of the contract to remain unaltered.
But when considering the commitment to provide sewer and water, the board stipulated that Forrester would only be guaranteed service if future development maintained the planned minimum one-acre lots.
If future development is made on smaller lots, Forrester will need to approach the water improvement district board to amend the contract.
However, in agreeing to the terms of Forrester's contract, the board questioned whether there were other developers with pending agreements who should have the same terms offered.
As far as the water improvement district board and staff members know, there may be as many as five different developers in the county with similar circumstances.
As a result, the water improvement district board agreed to allow any developer whose plans predate the 2005 policy change with similar terms the same opportunity as Forrester.
A final concern related to the time PRWID honors its contract.
Many development projects planned in the Carbon County area take more than two years to complete.
In fact, there are some developments in the county which have been in the works for more than a decade, according to PRWID.
As a result, in the time it takes a developer to complete a subdivision, the district's commitment for sewer and water service could expire.
Development approvals from the county are valid for one year.
However, if the developer is making progress, the county commission can approve an extension to the project.
Furthermore, there are many stages between taking a tract of land and selling a finished house to a buyer.
The process of re-zoning, subdividing and then constructing a building on each lot may span a few years.
Each of the processes has a separate approval in county government.
However, PRWID's board grants approval once - at the time the development is subdivided.
After the project site is subdivided, the process of selling individual lots and then constructing buildings, each with a sewer and water connection, may not occur for years or even decades.
In that time, the water district has to consider other developments.
If the district honors water service indefinitely, future developments may need to be rejected in order to guarantee water service.
"Maybe the board can tie the water availability commitment with the county's development [time line]," suggested PRWID board member Richard Tatton.
The board instructed staff to draft a policy to align the district's water commitments to the county's development process.
For Forrester and other local developers who are grandfathered into previous policies, the water improvement board will honor the terms of the agreements.
For developers who received approval letters from the district after the policy was changed in 2005 and before Dec. 1, 2006, the two-year commitment will apply.
Any future development projects will need to follow the policy which the water improvement district board plans to adopt at a later date.