Some time prior to 2010, a family in Darien decided to build a new house on land outside of the county's defined development area.
Since then, they've had to pay a water district tax of about $400 a year even though they've twice been denied an application to hook up to the water system.
Yesterday at the Public Service Committee meeting, David Hagelberger, Town of Darien supervisor, appealed to the Legislature on the resident's behalf to allow a water hook-up for the home.
Rather than take action immediately, the committee asked County Planning Director Felipe Oltramari to find the minutes for the meetings where first the county's water committee and then the county's planning board denied the water hook-up applications.
In 2001, when the county's current water system was being developed, the state required the county to develop a plan to protect farmland, ensure development took place in already developed areas and encourage revitalization of existing industrial areas, business districts and residential neighborhoods in the City of Batavia and developed village areas.
So the county adopted a "Smart Growth Plan" that defines development areas and establishes procedures for revising the plan.
The subject of the house in Darien came up now, again, because the county is wrapping up an every-three-year review of the plan and revising it to allow for development of the WNY STAMP project in Alabama.
Part of Hagelberger's argument on behalf of his local resident is that if the county can revise the plan for STAMP, why not revise it for this family as well?
After the meeting, Oltramari explained a little further why the Smart Growth Plan exists.
It's very easy for new development to follow infrastructure. By putting in the water system, without a plan, the county could lose a lot of farmland along the paths of water mains.
The concern has never really been about big developments, but about farmland disappearing in a piecemeal fashion -- a house here, a new business there, a little strip shopping mall on this or that lot. The goal of the Smart Growth Plan is to try and prevent that sort of development.
Since it was adopted, there have been 40 applications for development outside of a designated development area, Oltramari said, and all but three have been approved.
"For the most part, people understand -- keep out of farm fields," Oltramari said. "Keep it in the woods or where there's already a lot of housing, but not in the middle of a field, not in good productive farmland."
Oltramari noted that farming and residential development sometimes don't mix well.
"Farmers will tell you when you have a neighbor who doesn't really like your operations, they can make your life a nightmare," Oltramari said.
The county has no idea how the homeowners are getting water now. The is no known well on the property.
One reason the homeowners still must pay the tax for the water district is that particular district isn't bill on a per-hook-up basis, but rather is taxed based on land assessment for each parcel.
Land that is in an agricultural district is exempt from the tax, but for some reason that isn't clear, the house in Darien is outside the nearest ag district. Oltramari said it will take more research to figure out what happened in that particular case.
"Somebody can make the point that they do benefit from the water district because there is a fire hydrant available," Oltramari said. "Somebody could make that case."
DOWNLOAD: Smart Growth Plan (pdf)