Thursday, Jun 15, 2023

Fairfax County Updates Sanitary Sewer Upgrade Policy

Hundreds of miles of underground infrastructure lie beneath Northern Virginia’s urban and suburban neighborhoods. Many of these facilities, including sanitary sewers and water mains, were constructed during the region’s postwar building boom between the 1940s and 1980s. In some instances, they are fast approaching the end of their useful life, may not meet new sewer design standards, and/or are undersized for the amount of future development contemplated under the region’s local planning documents.

This is certainly true in Fairfax County, which has experienced substantial infill development and redevelopment in its urban centers, transit station areas, community business centers, and suburban business centers in recent years.

The question of how to upgrade or enlarge older undersized sanitary sewer facilities to accommodate new growth has been a top priority for the County over the past two years. In some instances, new developments have proffered cash contributions towards upgrades. In other instances, developers have proffered to study downstream flow issues and upgrade systems where deficiencies exist. Fortunately, there have been relatively few capacity-related issues in the daily operation of Fairfax County’s sewer system.

However, in an attempt to accelerate the upgrading of sewer lines before demand exceeds capacity, the Board of Supervisors on December 6, 2022, adopted a new policy for reimbursing developers for upgrading sewer facilities that serve both a specific development project as well as general future growth in flow.

Under the new policy, where a project is proposed in a sewer service area that experiences, or is likely to experience, deficiencies in its sanitary sewer system capacity, the developer would be responsible for upgrading/enlarging the system.

Developers would be eligible for reimbursement for the cost of the upgrades in a proportional amount equal to the difference between: (1) existing background flow plus the anticipated buildout flow under the Comprehensive Plan; and (2) future flows exclusively from the proposed development.

While the Department of Public Works and Environmental Services would be chiefly responsible for implementing the new policy, the Department of Planning and Development would be responsible for calculating the buildout analysis under the Comprehensive Plan.

All hard and soft costs specifically related to the installation of the upgrades would be eligible for reimbursement including, but not necessarily limited to, construction management fees, legal fees associated with easements, and more.

Partial reimbursement can be requested during the project (e.g., at the 40 percent, 80 percent, and 100 percent project completion level), or it can be requested at the conclusion of the project when the upgraded facilities are turned over to the County.

Reimbursement is contingent upon the execution of an agreement with the County that would be negotiated prior to the issuance of the land disturbance permit for the project. The developer must obtain three separate bids from contractors, and the County will base its reimbursement upon the lowest bid (unless otherwise agreed to).

There exists no timing requirement for the installation of the upgraded infrastructure and, as long as the reimbursement agreement is executed and bonds are in place for the enlarged facilities, a developer may phase its construction and determine delivery of the agreed-upon upgrades.

However, a development would only be able to receive Residential Use Permits and Non-Residential Use Permits equal to the amount of available flow capacity remaining in the sanitary sewer system. RUPS/Non-RUPS which would result in flows exceeding such capacity would not be issued until the upgrades were completed.

Funding for reimbursement is anticipated to be generated through a $0.20 per month increase on residential sewer bills, a $182.00 increase in Availability Charges for single-family homes, and a $146.00 increase in Availability Charges for townhomes and multifamily projects. These increases will take effect beginning in 2024.

Any project for which a land disturbance permit has not yet been issued as of December 6, 2022, is eligible for reimbursement under the new policy.

If you have questions about the new policy or its implementation, please contact our firm.