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County Council torn on sewer extension; Resolution due for vote; issue stems from mistake by agency


The County Council appeared torn between the impulse to keep sewers out of western Howard County and the desire to be fair to a property owner after discussing the case yesterday in preparation for a vote Monday night.

Sewers are a sensitive subject in rural Howard County, where last year's campaigns were fought and won mainly on the strength of candidates' support for reining in large developments that depend on the building of sewers.

Councilman Allan H. Kittleman, a Republican who represents the area, said after the work session that he is getting pressure from constituents fearful of more sewers but hasn't decided how to vote.

Two other members appeared to be leaning toward approving an administration resolution that would block sewers, and one said he is leaning the other way.

The dilemma involves Ahmed Bagheri, a West Friendship restaurant owner who says he bought 13.75 acres near his Friendship Pride restaurant in the mistaken belief that he could get public sewers for 25 new townhouses by paying the $400,000 cost.

County officials say the area was never intended to have more than public water lines, although they acknowledge that a mistake by the Department of Public Works lent credence to Bagheri's belief that he could get sewers.

"This is a back-door way of amending the General Plan," Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray, a Columbia Democrat, warned. "It was clear that this parcel was intended for water only."

Councilman Christopher J. Merdon, an Ellicott City Republican, disagreed, saying, "What are we going to require a property owner to do, know the whole legislative history of Howard County before buying a piece of property?"

He said he hasn't decided how he will vote.

Thomas M. Meachum, Bagheri's attorney, said some arguments against his client were "after-the-fact rationalizations. He wants to use his property, which is otherwise unusable."

Because the land isn't suitable for septic systems, contains wetlands and is zoned low-density, Bagheri said, he is "stuck" if sewers can't be extended from the nearby Turf Valley Resort and Conference Center.

Adding to the confusion, his plan was approved last month by the county Board of Appeals.

The council resolution -- introduced with the support of County Executive James N. Robey -- would deny sewer lines to the parcel, blocking the project.

"I'm not supporting that," Robey said recently about the bid to extend sewers. "I am not going to develop the western end of Howard County."

Council members generally agree with Robey, but several worry that two county agencies -- planning and public works -- may have given Bagheri different messages, putting him in a difficult position.

Part of the confusion stems from the fact that though public water has been approved for the Marriottsville area because of contamination from the Alpha Ridge landfill, the General Plan prohibited extension of sewer lines there as a way to to curb development.

Planning Director Joseph W. Rutter Jr. opposed the extension of sewers, but public works officials mistakenly included them on sewer maps changed when the water lines were installed.

Meachum said Bagheri bought the land in 1994 on the understanding that if he offered to pay for sewer lines several years before they were installed, they would be available.

The County Council added the property to the Metropolitan District that year.

Now, Meachum argued, the county is trying to change the rules in the middle of the game. Approving sewers for one project won't spur development, he said.

Last year, Bagheri ran into trouble from county planners when he tried to proceed with the project.

Rutter refused to approve an extension of sewer lines because it contradicted the General Plan. The planning board backed that view at a meeting in December, but the Board of Appeals reversed it last month. That prompted the resolution.

Pub Date: 2/24/99

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