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Businesses could benefit from sewer revamping, officials say

LAWRENCEVILLE - A tool to upgrade Gwinnett County homes could soon help revitalize businesses in southern Gwinnett.

Officials have proposed allowing businesses to use the county water service's sewer petition policy, which gives people with failing septic tanks a price break on the cost of hooking up to sewer.

Some shopping centers in Gwinnett's three community improvement districts may benefit from the proposal, which was approved by the Water and Sewerage Authority and will be considered by commissioners next month.

"Frankly I'm glad we're taking baby steps to encourage redevelopment," authority member Michael Sullivan said.

Using a cost-sharing method between the property owners and the enterprise system - which means rate-payers bear the cost - neighborhoods can petition the county to extend sewer lines.

Much of the county's sewer system was established when developers built pipes to neighborhoods, said Water Resources Director Frank Stephens. But many older subdivisions were built with septic tanks, which often fail, damaging the environment.

Since officials made the cost-sharing formula more affordable for homeowners in 2001, only three subdivisions have successfully completed petitions.

In addition to the change allowing businesses to apply, Stephens has proposed allowing system development charges, paid by anyone who hooks onto the sewer system, to be included in a long-term pay structure given to homeowners. The fee, about $2,600 a home, may have kept some neighborhoods from gaining the support needed for the petition, Stephens said.

While commissioners will consider both changes next month, Water and Sewerage Authority member Tommy Hunter balked at the idea that owners of undeveloped land would have to pay the entire cost for a sewer pipe if more than 10 percent crosses their acreage.

He wanted those landowners to be eligible for the cost-sharing method, but Stephens disagreed.

"I don't recommend that change because it puts us in a situation where we might be subsidizing sewer across developable land," he said, pointing out that land with a homestead would be eligible for the cost-sharing.