After operating under a six-month building moratorium because of a water shortage, the Westminster City Council is scheduled to vote tomorrow night on a plan that would allocate water the state has granted the city to priority residential and commercial development projects.
An additional 60,000 gallons of water per day became available last week when Westminster officials signed a consent order with the Maryland Department of the Environment, laying out steps to expand the city's water supply.
But unrestrained development can no longer continue in Westminster and throughout Carroll County, Councilman Robert P. Wack said.
"From here on out - forever - water is going to be a finite resource that we can only allocate in chunks," Wack said at a meeting city officials held with developers. "This is the beginning of a process that is going to take quite a while to unfold."
Numerous developers and their lawyers gathered for the public forum Wednesday night to push their projects and offer to find new water sources for the county seat.
Louis J. Siegel, a member of Diversified Investment Properties LLC, a company that plans to build hundreds of homes on the 146-acre Hoff/Naganna property, said developers could identify and pay for their new water sources, as they did for the Carroll Vista retirement community in Taneytown.
A new well drilled at Carroll Vista has allowed the construction of 250 units - half of the 500 planned - Taneytown city manager James L. Schumacher said.
"You're talking about Band-Aids," Siegel said of the initial water amount Westminster can allocate. "The solution is new capacity. [The developers will] solve the problem because we need to."
Under the agreement with the state, Westminster must progress with the development of several new water sources. Construction on an emergency pipeline from Medford Quarry off Route 31 to Cranberry Reservoir should begin this summer, said Jeff Glass, Westminster's acting planning and public works director. Other proposals call for pumping raw water from the Koontz Creamery well off John Street and expanding the city's 115 million gallon reservoir.
Westminster has also filed applications for permits to draw water directly from Hyde's Quarry and Little Pipe and Big Pipe creeks, city officials said.
The additional 60,000 gallons of water will first be allocated to recorded lots, site plans and subdivision plats signed or approved before April 1, Westminster officials said. If Westminster appropriately develops plans for new water sources by March of next year, an additional 79,000 gallons of water per day could become available.
"We want to create a rational process, a thoughtful process ... so that those of you dependent on developments in this community will be able to develop a reliable business plan in the next few years," Councilman L. Gregory Pecoraro said during the meeting. "In the meantime, we've got to act as if this is what we've got, and we need to allocate it wisely."
Siegel repeatedly asked whether Westminster officials had estimated how much water would be required by all projects in the development pipeline. Wack and Pecoraro said the city has calculated that number, although they didn't have it available.
But Westminster city manager Marge Wolf also stressed the need for water conservation.
The city must submit a conservation plan to the state Department of the Environment by June 15. Annual updates on water conservation activities, such as lawn watering restrictions and storm water recycling, will also be required.
Wack and Pecoraro said that the city could add incentives for new developments or rehabilitation projects that feature low-flow fixtures.
"We really have to change the way we think about water," Wolf said. "It takes a lot to get it to your faucet."
The rising costs of building and upgrading treatment plants will also strain the process, Wolf said. She mentioned plans for Westminster's new water treatment plant, which will cost twice the amount originally budgeted for the project.
Wack and Pecoraro chair the city's growth and annexation committee, which was formed to establish a process on how the city should annex land. Ten annexation petitions were pending in late September when the state froze development in Westminster, putting those property transactions on hold.
Development projects in the public interest, such as expansions at Carroll Hospital Center and Carroll Community College, would remain priorities, Westminster officials said.
Carroll County Commissioner Dean L. Minnich, a Westminster resident, said Thursday that he was glad to see the city come to an agreement with the state. But Minnich said water issues across the county will remain a challenge for years to come.
"There's never going to be the sense of unlimited water supply, and water is never going to be as cheap as it has been in the past," he said.