A dispute over the width of a rural back road in upper Montgomery County is blocking the inauguration of a sewage pumping station that would serve a 65-house subdivision in an area south of Damascus.
The pumping station was built last year by the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission for the Spring Garden Estates subdivision, where houses are currently hooked up to septic tanks.
The station needs electric power and water service to be operable and WSSC installers need to use the road to install the services.
However, eight landowners in the area, whose property abuts the road near the $182,000 pumping station, won a temporary injunction against use of the full 30-foot right-of-way last summer.
The argument is over Kings Valley Road and Kingstead Road and whether they are actually 13 feet wide (the extent of the paved surface) or 30 feet, as all county-maintained roads are supposed to be. The owners say the road should be widened to conform with county standards and they want to be paid for the additional land needed.
Ward Development Co. Inc. has joined in the legal action because it needs sewage service for 19 $80,000-range houses that it has in various stages of completion in the subdivision.
"We were promised the sewage service by WSSC and paid all our fees," said Ward vice president Michael Thaden, "but now we cannot deliver our houses and we have lost 10 sales in recent months. We want to see the issue settled."
A hearing on the issues is scheduled in Montgomery County Court March 22. The WSSC says it could start operating the pumping station in six to eight weeks if the injunction were lifted.
Attorney Jules Lindau, a resident of the area, is representing himself and seven other landowners in the case, as well as the heirs of the Addie King family, from which a sixth of an acre for the station was purchased in condemnation proceedings by WSSC several years ago for $6,500. He said the issue might be resolved if a proposed settlement offer is accepted.
Lindau contends that the price paid for the land was insufficient and not representative of actual value "because of consequential damage to the balance of the land."
Lindau indicated that a settlement of less than $70,000 would take care of all the objections of the property owners.
Thaden says the impasse is costing Ward Development money.
"We want to use the facility, as promised, and the arguments can be settled later," he said. "It's between the landowners and the WSSC. We are not inolved in the problem but we are getting hurt."
John Freeman, president of United Building Corp., which has 23 lots in nearby Kings Valley Manor, is keeping a wary eye on the dispute. His area would also be served by the sewage pumping station.
"It's unfortuate and altogether unnecessary," Freeman observed, noting that he has waited some time for the sewer service that would allow him to build houses on his land.
A spokesman for the WSSC legal office said that the agency will seek on March 22 to have the injunction dissolved. He said that the 30-foot road width was "taken for granted."
A spokesman for the county attorney's office said that any county-maintained road must be 30 feet wide. He said a county-maintained road becomes public by use and that the long public use of Kings Valley Road is established.
But attorney Lindau, said that the issue is how WSSC takes land. He also said compensation should be based on the highest and best use of the land. In this case, he said, owners were compensated for rural land that had the potential for residential development.
Lindau said he warned the WSSC about the 17-foot-width issue before the pumping station was built. He said that the agency knew it needed the full 30-foot easement on the roadway for water and utility lines to be installed.
The area in question, which is west of Rte. 27 and south of Damascus, has been changing from a dairy farming region to a rural-residential community. Owners there say they have been concerned about that change.
Some dairy farm owners say they want to continue their operations, despite the encroachment of subdivisions. At the same time, some new residents of the subdivisions are said to object to their farming neighbors and the barnyard odors.
Attorney Lindau contends that earlier residents of Spring Garden Estates are not really anxious to be connected to the new sewer lines and would prefer to continue to use septic tank service. But the developers maintain that sewage service is the better alternative for the long run.