Westminster water source online, new policy approved

An end is in sight to the suspension on development that has pestered Westminster since June.

On Monday night, the Westminster mayor and Common Council unanimously voted to adopt a new waste and sewer policy that aims for better transparency about the resources available for future development.


“The new policy prioritizes new commercial and industrial projects and multi-family residential construction,” according to a news release from the city.

The temporary suspension began in June 2017 when the Maryland Department of the Environment declared that the Gesell well would not be able to go online as planned.


Following improvements to filtration, the MDE issued a certificate of potability for the well last week.

On Friday, June 23, Westminster Mayor Joe Dominick and the Common Council of the City of Westminster will enact a nine-month suspension on applications for development that require new net water allocation.

The new water and sewer policy takes into account the increased gallons per day that comes from the Gesell well and lays out a structure for the city to allocate water and sewer resources for the next several years.

Council President Robert Wack praised the hard work of city staff in developing the policy.

“We’ve never had this level of detail and clarity and transparency in the water allocation process,” he said.


With Gesell, the amount of new water that can be allocated sits at 174,000 GPD.

One-time allocations totaling 96,540 GPD for water and 193,375 GPD for sewer will go to the 16 projects in progress that were held in stasis as the city waited for the Gesell well to be brought online. The remaining GPD will be allocated over a period of seven years.

The star of the new policy is a Master Distribution Chart detailing these numbers, which is available with the meeting notes. Updated versions will be made readily available, city staff said.

The need for rationing water and sewer resources is not new, but the clear outline of the city’s resources, will, hopefully, help developers plan ahead, Wack said.

“We’ve been living with this reality for years now,” he said.

Seventy percent of resources will be allocated to commercial and industrial projects and 30 percent to residential projects.

The policy will restrict proposals for single-family homes the most. With the current water resources, the city plans to approve water for one additional single-family home per year inside city limits and one outside city limits.

Councilman Tony Chiavacci emphasized that although the plans going forward may look restrictive, the city is already allocating for approximately 600 new homes to go forward.

The impetus of the 70/30 split is to encourage commercial and industrial development, he said, but if those proposals do not take the entire 70 percent of the allocations, the city will consider more residential proposals.

Councilman Greg Pecoraro added that there are no more significant tracks of land within city limits to be developed for residential purposes, he said. Any residential development would likely have to be multifamily.

The Westminster Mayor and Common Council voted to deny a petition from a landowner to rezone a section of land from residential to business.

“The city’s adopted Comprehensive Plan emphasizes the need for new housing types to attract young professionals, empty nesters and others,” according to the meeting packet.

Proposals for new homes outside city limits will face especially tough challenges as they require Good Cause Waivers. The city has 10 such waivers on file, representing 14 units, according the meeting packet. This means that in most cases, additional proposals wouldn’t see progress until 2024.

One community member, Dan Staley, spoke during the public hearing and said he did not feel that the council should move forward on the policy because he did not believe council members had fully looked through the numbers. He said that after looking at data provided by the city he felt that more water was available than the city planned to allocate and they were being too cautious and restricting development too much.

Mayor Joe Dominick replied that many of the numbers that the city is required to work with come from MDE.

Councilwoman Mona Becker noted that the allocation numbers would come before the council at least once every year to be updated.

The city continues to look at additional sources to increase water and sewer resources. This includes considering water re-use, which has successfully been implemented in other states that struggle with water needs.

The governor and others have been supportive of this, Pecoraro said when speaking with the Times on Monday. The next step is to determine how that could work in Westminster.

In discussion of the proposed fiscal year 2019 budget during Monday’s meeting, city staff noted that $400,000 is reserved for the second phase of the Gesell well project, which is estimated to add 128,000 GPD for future allocation.

The water rates will see an estimated 5 percent increase. Sewer rates should see no change.

Director of Finance Tammy Palmer said the increase in water rates comes because development has not caught up to the expenses incurred as the city searches for new sources of water and the costs associated with the development of those sources.

The complete text of the revised water and sewer policy is available on the city’s website, westminstermd.gov. City staff will begin accepting and reviewing development applications under the new allocation policy effective April 9.

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