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Waco would require bigger lots for septic tanks under Plan Commission recommendation

Waco would require bigger lots for septic tanks under Plan Commission recommendation

CS waco dam.jpg (copy)

The goal of limiting local septic tank use is to mitigate the risk of runoff reaching Lake Waco, the city's drinking water source, Assistant City Manager Paul Cain said.

The Waco Plan Commission is recommending the city bump up the minimum lot size require for a septic tank, citing a desire to protect drinking water sources.

Because of the availability of sewer service inside city limits, changing the minimum from half-an-acre to an acre would primarily affect future subdivisions on the outskirts of the city, in what is known as the extraterritorial jurisdiction, Planning Director Clint Peters told the commission during a recent meeting when the Plan Commission approved the recommendation to the city council.

In recent decades, subdivisions of about 20 lots were the biggest going in seeking to use septic tanks in the city’s jurisdiction, and even developments that size were few and far between, Peters said. The requests were typically for one or two lots at a time.

“We’re starting to see larger subdivisions that come in with 40, 50, 60 lots,” Peters said.

The city’s primary concern is limiting the risk of runoff reaching Lake Waco, its drinking water source, Assistant City Manager Paul Cain said. Groundwater conservation districts created by the state have started to implement their own limits on septic tanks to control the risks they pose to groundwater, Cain said.

Groundwater and surface water protection through the extension of municipal sewer service was a driving factor in the city’s annexation of territory along Highway 84 on the western edge of town in 1998, he said. That area has since seen significant residential development at densities that would not have been allowed if septic systems were needed.

The risk of septic tanks causing contamination goes up as more are added, Peters said.

“For it to work on a half-acre lot, especially when you have a dense subdivision of half-acre lots, maintenance has to happen or you’re going to have issues,” Peters said. “To have across-the-board maintenance on a 50-lot subdivision of half-acres, over time, is almost impossible.”

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality imposes a minimum lot size of half-an-acre statewide, and the Heart of Texas Builders Association likely will request the city stick with that, though the association has not formally reviewed the proposal or taken a position, Executive Officer Kay Vinzant said.

“If the state regs call for a half-acre lot, we don’t think the city should be more stringent,” Vinzant said.

If approved by the city council, the earliest the change could take effect is Sept. 1, and any land platted before then would not be affected, Peters said.

“Any future subdivisions where they’re creating new lots would have to be a minimum of 1 acre in size,” Peters said.

The 1-acre minimum is becoming more common in Texas cities, he said. Fort Worth, for example, uses that standard. Certain types of septic systems already require at least an acre of land in Waco.

The suggestion for the change came from a planning department team tasked about a year ago with rewriting the city’s subdivision ordinance, Peters said.

Public meeting issues

While the business session of the Plan Commission’s meeting Tuesday was broadcast and livestreamed on, the work session was not broadcast. City Secretary Esmeralda Hudson said city staff members are switching to the city Youtube channel to broadcast some meetings but were unable to make the system work as planned during the Plan Commission work session. An audio recording of the work session is available by request from the City Secretary’s Office.

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