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Sewage limit puts development on hold in North Meck and Cabarrus County

Developers say it could mean even higher home prices because construction will eventually come to a complete halt.
Developers say it could mean even higher home prices because construction will eventually come to a complete halt.
Published: Mar. 21, 2022 at 5:51 PM EDT|Updated: Mar. 21, 2022 at 7:15 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - In North Mecklenburg and Cabarrus Counties, development is slowing way down and even stopping. That’s because of there’s no more capacity for wastewater at the plant that serves those areas.

Developers say it could mean even higher home prices because construction will eventually come to a complete halt. Answers from the Water and Sewer Authority of Cabarrus County and Charlotte Water have been hard to come by.

“If you don’t have wastewater, you can’t flush the toilet so it is critical,” Huntersville developer Nate Bowman told WBTV.

His company has developed more than 4,000 lots over decades of business in North Mecklenburg.

Bowman said he’s never had to handle a situation quite like this one.

In Cabarrus County, northeast Mecklenburg and parts of east Charlotte, wastewater goes to the Rocky River Treatment Plant in Concord. The plant is managed by WSACC.

But according to WSACC and Charlotte Water, there’s no space for more wastewater.

“All of a sudden, no, we’re not fine. We don’t have any capacity and without warning that creates a terrible situation for us,” Bowman said.

In Huntersville, Davidson and Cornelius, Charlotte Water is in charge of making sure permits for wastewater get approved because they’re the ones with a deal with WSACC for capacity. But now those permits are on hold.

Charlotte Water is not accepting any new project plans for those basins.

In an email WBTV obtained from Charlotte Water through a records request, an employee questioned whether that was the right move.

In an email to another colleague, Charlotte Water employee Nicholas Stanziale wrote “how will it work once the expansion is completed? A mad rush?”

The other colleage agreed that it would be.

The delay in permit processing doesn’t just impact developers, but new homebuyers in the region.

“Really what it’s doing is raising the cost of housing,” Bowman said.

“It might be 3-5 years before we ever catch up with the supply-demand ratio and at the same time affordability goes out the window.”

Bowman says there was no warning before things shut down and now he and other developers are in the dark on when the problem will get fixed.

An email from a Charlotte Water/Developer liaison group said they understood the capacity issues at WSACC came as a complete surprise to Charlotte Water.

“We believe that any allocation solution going forward should provide transparency and certainty to the development community,” they wrote.

But to developers WBTV spoke with, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

“The difficult part is trying to get answers from Charlotte Water,” Bowman said.

WBTV first emailed Charlotte Water asking for an interview and responses to this story one week ago. A spokesperson did not respond until two hours before the publication of this report.

The spokesperson wrote there is “no current project queue for the WSACC capacity limited basins because we are not accepting new plan review requests.”

But the response directly contradicts the reality WBTV has heard from developers and the records obtained from Charlotte Water.

Bowman has four projects that have been held up because there is no capacity to serve them. Months ago he even received something called a “Willingness to Serve Letter” from Charlotte Water. It’s a letter that all but guarantees his project can move forward with Charlotte Water’s blessing.

Months later, he was told that was not the case and emails reviewed by WBTV show he was not the only developer asking questions about what happened to Charlotte Water’s promise.

Another email WBTV received in the record request shows a table of projects that did, and did not, receive capacity. Some might call it, a queue.

After WBTV mentioned these discrepancies, a spokesperson responded that there was in fact a queue but that “Of the 29 projects in the queue in September, 28 received an allocation.”

WBTV has since asked if that “queue” includes all of the projects that received a willingness to serve letter.

WBTV also requested Charlotte Water’s allocation plan but a spokesperson provided a link to a webpage that provided summary details on the current situation.

Charlotte Water submitted a request to the NC Department of Environmental Quality to change its “flow factors” for future projects. It essentially created slightly more capacity by changing the estimate on how much sewage is created per square foot.

It appears most of that has already been used and projects still in the queue could be waiting for up to two years while Charlotte Water builds a new pump station and WSACC builds a new water treatment plant.

WBTV reached out to WSACC and asked questions about this story but no one ever responded.

In September, the WSACC board met for two hours in closed session. Upon going back into open meeting, the board immediately voted on presenting new capacity limits for Cabarrus towns.

Based on ongoing projects, Concord allocated base allocations up to 50,000 gallons per day to Kannapolis. Also if there’s additional capacity available Kannapolis would receive up to 75,000 gallons per day extra.

Based on how quickly everything shut down, developers have questions about how the capacity became such a big problem overnight.

“I think this is this is a situation that nobody is taking the blame for and they’re trying to correct it as quickly as they can, but they still need to have better communication so we know how we’re going to solve the problem,” Bowman said.

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