The County Council is scheduled to vote Wednesday on whether St. Paul's School in Brooklandville would be granted permission to attach a planned 8,000-square-foot maintenance building to an existing sewer line on the nearby school-owned Emerson Farms property.
While the plan must receive council and state-level approval to pass, a local conservation group and several state agencies have recommended against it because of the property's location outside the county's Urban-Rural Demarcation Line — which, among other things, dictates where public water and sewer lines can run.
"There are good reasons on both sides to either support it or oppose it," Dave Thomas, assistant to the director of public works for Baltimore County, said.
St. Paul's School, located at 11152 Falls Rd. in Brooklandville, has already received county approval for maintenance building, which it refers to as "the barn," and which would be located at 800 Greenspring Valley Road.
School officials said in a statement that it would not be visible from the road and "will enhance student safety on the upper campus, increase the efficiency of the buildings and grounds effort and open up existing spaces on the main campus to be repurposed to instructional purposes."
A bathroom in the barn, which would be used by the maintenance staff for St. Paul's School, St. Paul's School for Girls, and St. Paul's Plus Preschool, would only connect to the existing sewer pipe — not extend it — school officials said.
The Emerson Farms property — as well as St. Paul's School — sit just outside the county's Urban-Rural Demarcation Line (URDL), which was instituted in 1967 as a way to maximize resources in the county's urban areas while limiting development in rural areas.
Properties inside the URDL are served by public water and sewer; those outside of it are served by septic and well systems. State funding for water and sewer is prioritized to areas inside the URDL, Thomas said. For a property outside of the URDL to be served by public water and sewer, Thomas said there would need to be a health risk, such as well water contamination or a failing sewer system, to justify using public water and sewer.
St. Paul's School's request is complicated by such an exception. Long before the Emerson Farms property was gifted to the school in the early 2000s, a 2-inch line was allowed to connect to public sewer because its septic system was failing, Thomas said. At the time, Thomas said the county "put some very strict controls on" who could use that sewer line "because of the sensitivity of the area."
St. Paul's asked to connect the planned maintenance building to that sewer line, but because it is new development and not part of the residential houses that are permitted to attach to the pipe, it was subject to the annual sewer and water plan revision process.
The Greenspring Montessori School, at the corner of Greenspring Valley Road and Falls Road, had a similar request fulfilled in the past, Thomas said. The school tapped into public sewer because of failing septic as well, and several years later, asked to connect a new multi-use building to the existing sewer line. Approval was granted for that use.
"It's an illustration of all these 'right on the edge' questions that can go either way depending on how the decision-makers come down on it," Thomas said.
In a report prepared for the Planning Board, which voted on whether the St. Paul's sewer plan should go forward to the council, representatives from the county's Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability, the Department of Planning and the Department of Public Works recommended the change be accepted, but that it would only apply to the maintenance building.
During the hearing process last summer leading up to the Planning Board's recommendation, Thomas said the Maryland Department of Planning and Department of the Environment recommended against the project.
In an August letter to Thomas, Richard Josephson, director of planning services for the Maryland Department of Planning, said the project was inconsistent with the county master plan.
At a Jan. 14 Baltimore County Council work session, Teresa Moore, executive director of the Valleys Planning Council, spoke in opposition to the sewer plan amendment.
Moore said that the Valley Planning Council, a conservation group that works on land-use and preservation issues in northwest Baltimore County, opposes the plan because the building violates a pre-existing agreement regarding the school's growth between the council and St. Paul's School.
"It's the principle of putting things outside the URDL to accommodate new development," Moore said.
Councilwoman Vicki Almond, who represents the area, said she has listened to both sides over the past several weeks. As of Friday, she was unsure of how she would vote on what she considers a "small, special exception."
"I really do understand both sides," she said. "I'm a great proponent of not messing with the URDL, not moving it anywhere, protecting our land and preservation, and at the same time wanting to help businesses and schools like St. Paul's to be the best they can be as well."
The council was slated to vote on the issue on Tuesday evening but due to snow forecast, the council meeting was postponed till Wednesday. Visit http://www.baltimoresun.com/towson for the results.