Developers, town collide over fees, sewer stations

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By Staff Brunswick Beacon

SHALLOTTE— Town administrator Paul Sabiston says accusations from developers he is “throwing curveballs” at them and keeping their plans from going forward are “entirely fiction.”

At last Tuesday’s board meeting, Adam Lisk, developer of Sea Wynde Plantation, planned for Cumbee Road, and Jim Wiseman, agent for Wakefield Coastal, the developers of San Rio, accused “town staff” of not communicating all the town’s expectations to them ahead of time.

Sabiston said he has tried to work with developers. He said he has had numerous meetings with them, during which he has always explained exactly what the town expects from them.

For the past several months, Lisk has been arguing with the town over the timing of paying sewer transmission fees, and last week, the board voted to give developers a 60-day window to pay less than was originally expected. During the longer-than-usual meeting, Lisk chastised Sabiston for not communicating with him.

Sabiston explained that Lisk’s project has a master plan that includes several phases totaling 1,300 units. The town board approved the plan last year, and then Lisk began the process of getting the preliminary plats for each phase approved.

Last fall, the planning board and town board OK’d the preliminary plat for Phase 1—287 units and some commercial property on the corner portion of Cumbee Road and U.S. 17.

“Once your preliminary plat’s approved, you receive a sewer transmission fees bill,” Sabiston explained. “He didn’t pay it.”

Lisk said this week he has never dealt with a town that required payment so early in the process.

“I don’t know of any other place in the state where developers are required to pay recovery fees before getting a building permit,” he said. “We’ve never had a problem with that fee. It’s the timing of the fee.”

Lisk also delayed paying the master planning review fee required for a development with a large number of units, according to Sabiston.

Finally, Lisk paid the planning review fee, but he still has a bill outstanding, Sabiston said.

“At that point, he started to try to push Phases 2 and 3, but because he was delinquent on the Phase 1 payment, I held them.”

Eventually, the town executed a sewer permit for Phase 1, even though Lisk had not paid, “to try to work with him,” Sabiston said. “We allowed Phases 2 and 3 to go through.”

Lisk said the timing of sewer transmission fees has been the sticking point.

“Ultimately, it’s more an issue of communication and expectations, I guess. The problem becomes that certain members of town staff have not effectively communicated expectations.”

“We keep getting told it’s going to be made right,” Lisk said.

Unhappy over another issue, the developers of San Rio brought several representatives to last week’s meeting including Wakefield Development president Billy Sutton, who threatened to take his project elsewhere.

The threat came after Sabiston explained the company was required to pay for a regional sewer lift station to provide service to this project as well as other customers in the area. Sabiston said he had met with Wiseman and others about the project and they had agreed to it.

But last Tuesday, Wiseman called the issue a “curveball” and said whenever the San Rio developers come to a meeting they are “told something different every time.”

“I’m not going to pay to build a station to support the entire community of Shallotte,” Sutton told the aldermen.

Sutton said the project would bring in $3 million to $4 million in revenue to the town, but the developers have often “been insulted by staff.”

“We’re being pushed away with a surprise,” he said.

Sabiston refuted that, saying recently the San Rio developers have been told from the start they would be required to build a regional lift station and they will be eligible for reimbursement for the part of it that does not supply San Rio.

The reimbursement money comes from the sewer transmission fees.

Sabiston said he and Mayor Gerald Long met with Wiseman and told him what the town needed. According to Sabiston, Wiseman said the company had no problem bonding the full project.

“We said it was up to him. They can pursue the reimbursement if they want to,” he said.

Sabiston said Lisk has already agreed to build an oversized regional lift station and is seeking reimbursement.

San Rio has not even requested the reimbursement, he said.

“To act like it’s a curveball or anything is just entirely fiction,” Sabiston said.

Wiseman said this week that, during the meeting with Sabiston and Long, they talked about the bond amount “but in no instance was any number mentioned on the number of gallons or size of the pump station until the day of the meeting.”

He said the reimbursement agreement is not in place, so his company could not agree to something that wasn’t assured.

Alderman John Kinlaw said this week the company’s finger pointing at the town staff is “really funny” because Wakefield has been told well in advance what is expected.

“They just wait up until the last minute [to respond] and create a flurry of activity because they need it right now. It jams everybody up, and we keep having special meetings and workshops about it.

“We’re ready to move on with this thing.”

Wiseman said he is hopeful that the town will move forward with the annexation and “work something out” with the sewer situation.

The board recessed its meeting until 6 p.m. Feb. 19 to take action on requests from the San Rio developers on the annexation and rezoning of property off Gray Bridge Road and an amendment to the Phase II master plan.

Sabiston said he expects a resolution to the problem one way or another at that meeting.

Kinlaw agreed, saying the development process can go forward “if [the developers will] go ahead and do what needs to be done instead of dragging their feet.”