Vote was 4-3 in highly controversial decision; some fear sewer system will end pastoral flavor of area
By DOUG NURSE / www.ajc.com
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
A bitterly divided Milton City Council on Monday finally put to rest an issue that has bedeviled the community since its inception — a sewer policy.
The council voted 4-3 to adopt a map and agreement with Fulton County defining where county sewer could go. In many communities, extending sewer is a routine activity. In Milton, it’s been grounds for political combat, leading to the defeat of two incumbents last November, and contributing to the resignation of the city manager after only five months on the job.
North Fulton County news Milton residents treasure their tree-lined lanes, pastoral vistas and other rural characteristics, and they fear development, especially dense development, will ruin that. Many believe that sewer is an engine for density, and they favor limiting sewer as a way to control growth.
But others argue that density can be controlled through zoning, that sewer in some areas is reasonable, and the city needs the tax revenue from commercial projects.
After three hours of sometimes testy debate, Council member Karen Thurman moved to approve the map and agreement, hammered out by the city attorney and staff. Councilman Bill Lusk seconded. They were joined by Mayor Joe Lockwood and Councilman Burt Hewitt. Opposing the motion were Council members Julie Zahner Bailey, Tina D’Aversa and Alan Tart.
“It’s a landmark,” Lusk said. “We can remove this political football that’s been use and abused and maintain the character of the area that everyone wants, and get on the more important things of running this city. Now we can enforce sewer service and move on.”
The minority vigorously objected to voting Monday night, arguing they hadn’t seen the map until Friday, the agreement until Sunday, and the public hadn’t seen them at all. They lobbied for a work session next week so the details of the map and agreement could be fully vetted.
But Lockwood countered that after months of discussion it was time to make a decision.
The council’s decision establishes borders for sewer to go along Ga. 9 and in some spots in the Crabapple area.
The two sides could not agree on what defined “sewer extension,” the equivalent in Milton political parlance to a curse word. For the minority, sewer extension was defined as providing sewer to any new parcels. For the majority, extension was defined as running it beyond the defined service area.
City Council chambers initially was packed with about 100 people, including some from neighboring jurisdictions who came to watch the climatic showdown. About 20 residents and business owners spoke at the meeting. Although in the past, most speakers have been anti-sewer, on Monday those addressing the council were more evenly divided.
D’Aversa said after the meeting that by approving sewer extension, the City Council had established a dangerous precedent that could haunt the city later.
Zahner Bailey said that some on the council forgot earlier promises to voters.
“You just witnessed four people who claimed to not to support sewer extension vote to extend sewer,” she said. “Sewer equals density.”