Plugging ‘unusual’ water gap may cost $155,000

By Tom Joyce

July 23, 2013

Faced with an uncommon situation of an inner-city area without access to municipal water service, Mount Airy officials have given the nod to a solution potentially costing $155,000.

That move, approved by the board of commissioners during a meeting last week, was triggered by a request from a city property owner, Dr. Dean Simmons, a longtime local dentist. He is seeking to construct an office/warehouse building on North Street, between East Lebanon and Galloway streets.

While Simmons already has a tenant for the building, an existing family owned business, the project encountered a brick wall: no water availability.

There is apparently “no usable water line” in the section of North Street proposed for the development, according to city Public Services Director Jeff Boyles. Boyles added that a small line might have been there in the past, when businesses including a burial vault company operated in the area, but no evidence of a pipe can be found.

That posed a dilemma for Simmons, since the office/warehouse building likely requires at least a 6-inch line being extended to the front of the property to provide fire protection.

Meanwhile, city ordinances require developers of land, typically for projects such as new housing subdivisions, to provide water and sewer line connections and all necessary fire hydrants, lift stations and pump stations between the property and the municipal systems.

However, a section of the ordinance allows the city government to extend lines at is own discretion for reasons including alleviating health problems or serving a greater public interest.

That seemed to be the reasoning behind Dr. Simmons making a special request to the commissioners that the city install the line on North Street rather that forcing him to do so, with Boyles noting little precedent for such a situation.

Simmons said he was approaching the board as a longtime (38-year) taxpayer in Mount Airy who has paid $54,000 in taxes on his holdings in the past six years alone.

One mitigating factor he cited was the previous availability of water at the site, which was cleared about 20 years ago and now is poised for development. Simmons also pointed to the existence of property in the middle of the city not served by water. “It’s unusual, I think.”

Board Sympathetic

The commissioners concurred with the request, through a 5-0 vote, with one councilman, Jon Cawley, questioning why the board was even having to consider such a situation. At a time when Mount Airy constantly seeks water customers outside its limits, Cawley said the service being inaccessible to in-town properties is hard to conceive.

Steve Yokeley, another board member, agreed. “Since it (the North Street site) had water at one time…I can’t imagine not having water in the city. I’d like to see us get water to him.”

City Manager Barbara Jones acknowledged that such a service gap is rare.

Commissioner Shirley Brinkley applauded Simmons’ record in the community, including previous development by him, while getting an assurance that Simmons is willing to pay his part for the project.

“You have been a citizen for a long time,” Brinkley said. “You’ve made everything look good wherever you’ve been.”

Brinkley also said that Simmons’ residence had been forcibly annexed by Mount Airy several years ago, but “you didn’t complain about coming into the city?”

“I can’t say that,” Simmons replied with a smile.

Boyles recommends that a new 6-inch line be installed from East Lebanon Street south to Galloway Street, which takes a long-range infrastructure view. In addition to serving the Simmons property, this would replace an old 4-inch line in that area for which connection to a new 6-inch one is not feasible, he said.

A water main “loop” from East Lebanon to Galloway streets would help alleviate future water quality problems, according to Boyles.

Hydrants also would be provided, with Boyles putting the final price tag at between $115,000 and $155,000 for what was presented as the most-practical solution.

Jones, the city manager, said the municipality doesn’t want to come back later “and spend money for what we should have done the first time.”

“If you don’t do it right, there’s no sense in doing it at all,” Commissioner Scott Graham said.

Simmons declined to name the family owned business targeted for the office/warehouse building, but said it now is operating from two locations. “This three-thousand-square-foot facility will allow them to get everything under one roof.”

He said the section of North Street in question, though mostly desolate now, could be fully developed as a result of the utility project. “It will be a win-win situation for everybody.”

Simmons added that the business already agreeing to locate there wants to move by the end of the year, which Boyles said will be “tight” due to requirements including state permitting for the project.

That time frame could be met “if the weather is good,” he said.

Also at last week’s meeting, the city commissioners:

• Unanimously approved the continuation of an automatic aid agreement with the Franklin Volunteer Fire Department, which involves that unit being dispatched to any fires in the Cross Creek area along with city firefighters. The original agreement dates to 2008, when the municipality began supplying fire and other services to that area after its annexation.

The Franklin department already had a presence there and its “great response” in assisting at emergencies since has been invaluable, city Fire Chief Zane Poindexter said. “It has been that way for the whole five years.”

• Appointed David Jones to fill an unexpired term on the Mount Airy Planning Board, necessitated by the resignation of Kent Robertson. The term ends on Oct. 31. Also, Emily Loftis and Gilbert Huffman were appointed to new three-year terms on the city library board, which expire on June 30, 2016.

Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or