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City, developer try to reassure Hood Heights homeowners over sewer line

Hood Heights Terry Gibbs makes a point during a meeting last week with a developer who is buying the Halfway Tree Mobile Home Park and officials with the city of Hendersonville.  Hood Heights Terry Gibbs makes a point during a meeting last week with a developer who is buying the Halfway Tree Mobile Home Park and officials with the city of Hendersonville.

Weeks ago, homeowners in Hood Heights, a neighborhood of nine homes on a short dead-end street off Erkwood Drive, watched with alarm as surveyors set up their transits and began taking land measurements.

Their concern escalated when they read news reports a few days later that the city planned to condemn land for a sewer easement through their subdivision.
“We do not live in Hendersonville or Flat Rock but are county residents,” said Rosalind Ryan, one of the residents. “In May of 2018 the nine of us spent $17,600 to have our private road repaved.”
The city and a developer who plans to buy the Halfway Tree Mobile Home Park on Rutledge Drive met the homeowners face to face last week after the city scheduled a meeting to explain what was happening and reassure them that their neighborhood would not be permanently scarred by the project. The neighbors’ concerns arise from the effort by A.M. Partners LLC, of Spartanburg, South Carolina, to fix longstanding septic tank problems at Halfway Tree before closing on its purchase of the 113-unit park bordering the village of Flat Rock. The current owner, Upchurch Marinas Inc., of South Florida, in November settled an ongoing enforcement action by state water regulators, agreeing to pay a reduced fine of $35,000 and apply for city sewer hookup for the 18-acre park by April 1.
All but one family among the homeowners in Hood Heights was represented last week as City Manager John Connet, city utilities engineers and the developer, Tim Manson, explained the sewer line easement and construction process.
Surface water pollution from the failing septic tanks was “never resolved after numerous attempted enforcement events,” Connet said. “The need to provide sewer is critical because of the septic issues in the mobile home park.”
Knowing residents were fearful about what was happening, Connet attempted to assure them that the developer would not leave their roads, yards and driveways torn up.
“You put your own money” in the paving, he said. “We’re very mindful of that.”
The ownership of the road that makes up the spine of Hood Heights has caused the confusion that the city and developer are trying to sort out.
“I was under the impression that the road was a public right of way and once we got into it further we realized it was not,” Tim Thomason, the developer’s engineer, told the homeowners.
Attorneys for the city and the developer researched land records for the area back to 1924 and could not ascertain the exact legal ownership of the road. Some homeowners say they’ve always thought they owned the road to the centerline but land records don’t confirm that. The only legally sound way to run the sewer line, attorneys for the city and developer advised, is to condemn the property and create a recorded easement.
“This legal situation is definitely a curveball,” Manson said. “Legally we’re really in a no man’s land and as a private entity I can’t take the risk and run a sewer line down the road and have someone make a claim” to ownership. “This is a very complex, very expensive project. It’s above and beyond what we originally thought.”
Manson and City Engineer Brent Detwiler sought to assure the homeowners that the contractor will cover sewer pipe trenches, resew grass, replant bushes and repave the road once the project is done.
“We’ll limit the amount of disturbance on Hood Heights so folks can get around, so we don’t have hundreds of feet of trench open at once,” Detwiler said. “We’ve actually done projects like this in the past and these are provisions we require. … If a landscape buffer is removed, it will be put back — driveways, everything will be as good or better than prior to construction.”

The developer hopes to have a permit for the sewer line by March and start construction by April.
“This was the best, most equitable, least disturbing way to be able to provide gravity sewer service to the mobile home park,” Thomason said. “This was the least disruptive option to be able to get to a gravity flow scenario.”
But the gravity flow option is not without challenges. A hump in the topography means that the high spot will require the contractor to dig a trench as deep as 22 feet.
That concerned Terry Gibbs, a Hood Heights homeowner who is also a grading contractor.
“I know how much excavation you have to do to dig a hole that deep,” he said.
Like those in Halfway Tree, Hood Heights homeowners are in unincorporated Henderson County and on septic tanks. Manson said the contractor will install lines from the sewer main for laterals — the service lines that lead from a home to a sewer pipe — so homeowners can connect to city sewer.
“I’m not totally against what you’re doing,” Gibbs said. He told Manson he could “sweeten it up for these people” by paying to run the sewer line all the way to homes. “We’re doing you a favor. You could do us a favor.”
“The final details for providing of the laterals have not been worked out,” Manson responded. “There would have to be some kind of stub-up for you guys to access. The main will be sized to everybody along the line. Some of you may not want sewer but we will leave the sewer accessible at the property line.”
Not everyone was happy with that.
“You are causing a huge disruption in our neighborhood and there’s not too much we can do about it,” Ryan said.
“I am adding a lot of value to your property by bringing sewer to your property line,” Manson responded.
Covering the cost of the laterals all the way to homes — Gibbs estimated that running the 4-inch connection would cost around $2,500 — is not possible, Manson said.
“The way I am today I could not commit to doing that financially,” he said.
When someone asked about annexation, Connet ruled that out.
“You will not be annexed by the city of Hendersonville,” he said.
Manson’s company has developed manufactured home neighborhoods in the South Carolina Upstate and run sewer lines before, he said, although the legal “no man’s land” in Hood Heights makes this line more complicated than usual.
“There is still a lot to do,” he said. “This meeting is a step in the right direction and will enable us to move ahead full steam ahead.”