The Westminster City Council is evaluating eight pending land annexations and requests for water and sewer service outside the municipal boundaries - proposals that face hurdles because of the city's water shortages.
Although Westminster had been actively adding properties in recent years, a new state law requires municipalities to demonstrate an adequate water supply and wastewater treatment before annexing residential land.
Those eight annexations in the pipeline have been on hold since a water deficit created a six-month building moratorium in Westminster last September.
"It's like we're directing traffic," City Councilman Robert P. Wack said of deciding how much water can be allocated to development. "We've got to figure out how long to leave that green light on."
Westminster officials said they have allocated half of the 60,000 additional gallons of water capacity per day that the Maryland Department of the Environment granted the city when an agreement was signed in April.
The water has been allocated toward building out the 188-home Village of Meadow Creek subdivision and to age-restricted condominiums being developed around Bond Street, city planning manager Matthew B. Davis said.
During last week's meeting of Westminster's recently formed Committee on Growth and Annexation, City Councilman L. Gregory Pecoraro said that some of that water capacity is being reserved for "public purposes" such as an addition at Carroll Hospital Center, schools and churches. He said the next phase of the city's water allocation plan should be unveiled this fall.
Under Westminster's consent agreement with the state, an additional 79,000 gallons per day will be available in March 2008, once the city's water allocation plan is approved. But city administrator Marge Wolf said other sources of water should be available by then.
"We have in the works additional wells and sources of water that can come into the system if everything works out right," she said. "We are actively seeking to add to that capacity at the same time."
The ultimate solution for Westminster's water crisis is Carroll County's long-planned regional reservoir at Union Mills, Wolf added.
The Westminster City Council is re-evaluating how much additional water and sewer service can be extended outside the city limits.
Although Westminster has nearly 18,000 residents, its municipal water system serves about 35,000 area customers, including those in unincorporated areas, city officials said.
Under the county's Smart Growth policies, any property that is contiguous to the city must be annexed before it can develop, Pecoraro said. Westminster does not consider noncontiguous properties for annexation but offers "good cause" waivers for water and sewer service, he added.
"We were concerned in previous years that our control over the water and sewer was spinning away," Pecoraro said.
After the annexation meeting, landowner Richard Hull said he hopes to gain water and sewer connections for a Liberty Street lot outside the city limits that he hopes to sell.
"It's surrounded by existing houses served by water and sewer," said Hull, a Manchester resident. "It's all there. It's just a matter of allocation."
Before the water deficit, Westminster offered service to anyone who wanted it in the city's environs, Hull said. But he said that has all changed.
About 100 residential acres and 40 commercial acres are awaiting annexation into Westminster, Davis said.
Those pending annexations include a 1.1 acre parcel on College View Avenue where landowner Richard Barron hopes to sell four lots.
"I've been sitting [on this property] since May of '06," said Barron, who lives in Lisbon in Howard County. "It would be nice for something to happen."
Applications for permits to alter the use of Westminster's existing buildings can affect the water allocation process, Davis said. Just last week, the owner of a John Street building with an existing water connection applied to put in a laundromat there, he said.
"It's a very different use that uses a lot of water," Davis said. "Who could have predicted that?"