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A proposed residential development on Burleson Mountain offers a mile of bluff-line views of Morgan County and the Tennessee River.
Daily photo by Jonathan Palmer
A proposed residential development on Burleson Mountain offers a mile of bluff-line views of Morgan County and the Tennessee River.

Going upscale
Sewer plan could clear way for construction of 500 homes

By Paul Huggins
phuggins@decaturdaily.com 340-2395

Decatur Utilities and a residential developer appear to be in agreement regarding a prorated payment plan that would bring sewer service atop Burleson Mountain, clearing the way for 400 to 500 upscale homes.

Though they gave no official approval, DU board members indicated they favor letting Joe Brown Duckworth of Tuscaloosa recoup the estimated $500,000 needed to extend sewer service from Red Bank Road to the mountain by charging people outside his development to tie into the system.

The discussion at DU on Wednesday sparked a proactive response from Mayor Don Kyle, who suggested DU develop a prorated formula that the city can use to partner with developers on large projects and help ease the burden of upfront costs.

Currently, a developer must pay DU to extend sewer to the new subdivision. It's a system that slows residential growth because developers don't want the burden of excessive upfront costs, developers explained in a Daily article Monday.

Duckworth and partner, Jim Mitchell, said they need DU to make a decision quickly so that they can have lots ready to sell when Base Realignment and Closure transferees begin arriving.

Their development involves 168 acres of the 375 on which they proposed to build an upscale golf community last year. That plan fell through in September because it was contingent upon Decatur County Club agreeing to a land swap, which its membership voted down.

Instead of a golf course, it will now have more houses.

Most of the property encompasses Indian Hills Golf Course, which is still in operation. It offers about a mile of bluff sites with views of the Tennessee River. It's 1.2 miles from Burningtree Country Club and two miles from Interstate 65.

Duckworth intends to build an upscale gated community, ranging from townhouses to $400,000 houses sitting on three-fourth-acre lots, similar to Huntsville's Providence development. It will feature walking trails, a pool and a clubhouse.

He said he would bring the property into city limits if DU approves his sewer payment plan.

"It's just a no-lose situation," he said, noting DU gets more ratepayers.

Mary Ann Scott, a Re/Max Realtor, told the DU board that the BRAC transferees' top priority is proximity to work and Burleson's location, less than 20 minutes from Redstone Arsenal, is ideal.

"That location couldn't be more attractive," she said.

Several years ago, the DU board of directors established a means by which developers or the city could pay for sewer extension and then re-coup the costs by charging subsequent users to connect.

Stating his case for approval of that measure, Duckworth said the sewer system could serve 2,000 to 3,000 acres of undeveloped land once it's in place, and it's unfair that he should have to pay to all of the costs to extend lines a mile from Red Bank Road while adjacent property owners could tie into the system for a fraction of his cost.

To further enhance that measure, Kyle recommended that DU develop a formula that determines the overall acreage a gravity-run sewer system could support. The developer would pay a percentage of the cost based on the acreage in his development, and the city would pay the rest, recouping its investment by charging future users to tie in as well as through property taxes.

That would ease the developers' upfront costs and, hopefully, spur more residential growth, he said. It also would give the city more leverage to persuade county developments to be annexed into Decatur's city limits.

The DU board asked Gas, Water and Wastewater Manager Gary Borden to work out a formula before next month's meeting.

Duckworth said the partnership would be closer in line to how cities like Huntsville and Madison operate, and he pointed out that Huntsville, which aggressively extends sewer with no charge to developers, had 3,000 residential lots come before its Planning Commission last month, while Madison County officials reviewed another 1,000.

Duckworth has options on property and as soon as the sewer issue is settled, he'll close on the property. He figured he could have a site plan in place by next winter and begin paving streets next spring.

Borden said it could take six months to install sewer lines once the board approves construction.

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