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City amends water extension policy amid conflict with county

Hendersonville City Manager John Connet presents city staff's findings on the 1997 Water Extension Policy and suggests a new policy going forward. Hendersonville City Manager John Connet presents city staff's findings on the 1997 Water Extension Policy and suggests a new policy going forward.

The Hendersonville City Council voted on Thursday to update a 1997 Water Extension Policy as part of an ongoing conflict with the Henderson County Board of Commissioners over water rates.

The new policy asserts that “the City of Hendersonville has the legal authority to reasonably extend water lines and set rates without the approval of any other local governing jurisdiction,” while also recognizing that the county has control over growth and development in its jurisdiction.

The conflict arose when the Henderson County Board of Commissioners refused a water extension request for a Horse Shoe Farm landowner’s connection to the city of Hendersonville’s water system. Historically, the city alerts the county of water extension requests that fall outside of city limits and seeks the Board of Commissioners’ approval. These were routinely granted until commissioners refused the request on grounds that the Hendersonville City Council had made no progress on a long-standing commitment to equalize water rates for customers inside and outside the city limits.

Of the 1997 Water Extension Policy, Hendersonville City Manager John Connet said, “Policy may in fact, be giving this particular item more credit than it deserves.”

City staff looked through city records and found no formal action by the council at the time to adopt the agreement for the approval of water extensions by other jurisdictions.

“We’re calling it a policy," Connet said. "I think, the best way to characterize it is was kind of an informal agreement that this is how this would happen.”

He explained that land use regulation was the driving factor in the creation of the 1997 policy.

“A good portion of the county and other jurisdictions lacked formal land use and zoning controls at the time," he said. "So, development could occur and really the only control of development at the period of time was where the infrastructure was. … If you wanted to have a development, the only thing that really was a deterrent was not having water or sewer.”

By controlling water and sewer, governments that did not have comprehensive zoning planning could control growth of their communities.

“That the city wasn’t driving development in the unincorporated areas or other jurisdictions — that was the main point of the agreement at the time.”

Since 1997, the county and local municipalities have strengthened zoning regulations to control development in their area. Therefore, Connet said, “Their control on development is no longer simply dependent on their controlling of water and sewage extensions by the city of Hendersonville.”

Beyond that, he stressed that the city has the legal authority to extend water lines and control rates.

“This informal agreement was really a way to try and work with our partners, our stakeholders in the county and we didn’t have to do that," he said. "But it's about being good neighbors and establishing a good policy.”

Council Member Lyndsey Simpson asked if the approval of a new policy had any effect on the Horse Shoe Farm issue which prompted it.

Connet said that zoning applicants in the county must say how they will get water and “if they (the Board of Commissioners) approve a project, then we will do the extension.” This means there will not be a separate vote OKing city water extensions as there had been with the Horse Shoe Farm extension.

Council Member Jeff Miller clarified, “Whoever was doing the project would make sure, beforehand, that we could in fact provide it. We would go through all of that with them, show the availability that we could have the volume to do it, correct?”

“Yes," Connet responded. "Typically what we do, is when a developer will come to us anyway and ask for an availability request or availability letter and we submit that to the jurisdiction. … We provide the developer with that availability letter but we also send it to the jurisdiction. I know we particularly send it to Henderson County for their review during their land use approval process.”

Mayor Barbara Volk asked if the Joint Water & Sewer Advisory Committee needed to review the change before approval. Miller said, “I think they should see it, but I think it is for us to approve.” The council agreed and the new policy was adopted.