DeKalb County is trying to reassure developers and city governments that its aging sewer lines can take on proposed large developments in cities such as Brookhaven and Dunwoody despite rising concerns from some city officials and residents.
In August, five letters were sent to developers from the county warning them the county did not have the sewer capacity to handle their developments. Those letters were a mistake, according to county officials.
“We rescinded those letters. The county is constantly conducting a myriad of tests and some results came back and those letters were sent a little prematurely,” said Burke Brennan, spokesperson for the DeKalb County Department of Watershed Development.
One of the letters went to the proposed mixed-use development of Solis Dresden in Brookhaven on Dresden Drive, which included 113 apartments. The Brookhaven City Council denied the rezoning request for the development.
Brennan said developers typically ask for sewer capacity approval before a project begins and that is likely what happened in this case. Representatives for Terwilliger Pappas, developers of the project, could not be reached for comment.
Dunwoody Economic Development Director Michael Starling reported to Dunwoody City Council that conversations with DeKalb County show sewer capacity testing in the Perimeter Center is in good shape.
“Right now, Dunwoody is in a good spot as far as sewer capacity, but that could change with new developments,” Starling told the council in September.
The council asked Starling to talk to county officials after news of the letters were made public.
One of the sewer capacity letters went to a former Denny’s restaurant in Dunwoody. Starling said a new massage business school was going in the location and that it was not a high-water usage business. Starling also urged developers begin talks with the county Watershed Department as soon as possible in its project.
City staff members are providing the county with all known planned developments in Dunwoody so county officials can run the projects through a modeling program that should predict if there is enough sewer capacity available, Starling said. The process takes approximately two months.
In Dunwoody, the massive High Street mixed-use development, which includes 400,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, 3,000 residential units and 400,000 square feet of new office space, is set to break ground next year. The development has submitted plans to the Department of Watershed for a preliminary review.
The Brookhaven MARTA redevelopment, which includes 200,000 square feet of office space and nearly 56,000 square feet of retail space as well as 547 residential units, should it be approved by Brookhaven City Council, is also expected to break ground next year. MARTA officials have told city officials it is working with the county to ensure there is enough sewer capacity.
“[Brookhaven’s] Community Development Department has met with DeKalb County regarding sewer capacity and the ability to receive such information earlier on in the rezoning process,” said city spokesperson Ann Marie Quill.
“With any rezoning that is contemplated by the city of Brookhaven, staff encourages applicants to request a sewer capacity letter from DeKalb County no later than 60 days in advance of the scheduled public hearing,” Quill said. “The city has yet to encounter a delay in development due to sewer capacity. With the reported significant problems with DeKalb Watershed, the city is extra diligent during review processes concerning sewer capacity and condition.”
With the planned MARTA redevelopment, Quill and Brennan said the county is conducting a video assessment of the related sewer main to ensure the additional volume can be accommodated.
“This sewer main, and the entire sewer system, is a major concern for all residents, business owners and potential investors in DeKalb County,” Quill said. “The city of Brookhaven hopes the DeKalb County Commission gives this important infrastructure the appropriate attention.”
DeKalb County is now in the fifth year of an eight-year program to fix sewer issues and stop spills as part of a settlement with the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
If issues arise with a development over sewer capacity, the county works with the developer to find cost-effect ways mitigate the situation, Brennan said, such as onsite treatment and reuse and release of wastewater to the treatment plants during off-peak hours.
“While the sewer capacity constraints are problematic, solutions are available and development is moving forward,” Brennan said. “DeKalb County remains open for business.”