Politics

Set your text size: A A A

City has no plans to annex Halfway Tree

The city of Hendersonville has no plans to annex the Halfway Tree Mobile Home Park as a condition of sewer extension and it couldn't if it wanted to.

City officials have been negotiating with a prospective buyer of the park, which is operating a failing septic system, to provide a connection to the park. The park, currently owned by Florida-based Upchurch Marinas Inc., negotiated a settlement of an enforcement action for stream pollution in exchange for a commitment to hook on to the city of Hendersonville sewer system. The city is working with homeowners in Hood Heights, a small subdivision off Erkwood Drive, to acquire easements to run the sewer line.

On Monday night, the Henderson County Board of Commissioners, which has consistently criticized the city's policy requiring annexation as a condition of sewer access in most instances, OK'd the city hookup.

“I’m very pleased," Commissioner Bill Lapsley said. "It’s been a project I’ve been following closely. Just for the record, it’s not clear in the documents I’ve seen whether the city is required that pro be ann into the c limits. I hope that would not be a condition."

It's not, City Manager John Connet said Thursday night. Connet and city Utilities Director Lee Smith said the city could not annex the mobile home park even if it wanted to because state law bars cities from annexing land contiguous to another municipality. The 18-acre tract of land containing around 115 mobile homes abuts the northwestern edge of Flat Rock on Rutledge Drive.

The prospective buyer, AM Partners LLC, has sought the assurance that it can connect to public sewer before completing a purchase.

“The buyer wanted to know that the city would allow the extension of the sewer,” Lapsley told commissioners on Monday. “I’m satisfied the state of North Carolina Division of Water Quality is putting a lot of pressure on the existing owner and the potential buyer that if this sale does not happen there will be additional fines for the property owner. There’s a lot of pressure being placed for this to happen.”
Commissioners unanimously approved the extension “but I would ask that in the interim the city clarify to the public whether an annexation would be required for that to happen.”

Complaints by downstream property owners against Halfway Tree go back at least 2½ years. The state Division of Water Resources fined the park owner $65,368 in July after regulators determined that the park had discharged wastewater into a stream that feeds Meminger Creek. It cited specific violations going back to June 2017 of “cloudy, odorous and foamy water” flowing from a stormwater out-fall near the southeastern boundary of the property. DEQ investigators visited the park again in November and December 2018 and, after finding violations, cited the mobile home park owner a second time.

The property owner, Upchurch Marinas Inc., which acquired the mobile home park in 2002, said in its appeal of the state’s enforcement action that it had spent $250,000 “repairing and in some cases replacing septic systems” and had commissioned an engineering study that estimated the cost of connecting to the city sewer system at $1 million to $1.8 million. An appeal by Upchurch's attorney, William Clarke of Asheville, resulted in the reduced fine plus $1,368 in enforcement costs, and the owner's agreement to submit monthly water samples for fecal coliform bacteria tests and to follow through on the city sewer system hookup. 

* * * * *

 

Click here to support the Lightning with an All-Access digital and print subscription.