As Morristown experiences a housing boom, especially in the village where developers are building tighter and higher, how will all these new places, and the people moving into them affect existing infrastructure?

Public school leaders say bring on the kindergartners, while the public utility is simply going with the flow.

About 400 homes, whether houses, apartments or condominiums, have been approved in recent years and are in various stages of development, according to town zoning administrator Todd Thomas.

The town’s year-to-year zoning permit logs show more than 130 units were permitted last year, and more than 100 of those will be hooked up to the village wastewater system. That doesn’t include the approval of a site plan for a 136-unit project on Jersey Heights.

So far this year, the town has issued zoning permits for about 100 units, with about three-quarters of them located in the village. Nearly every home permitted outside the village is a single-family home.

Waste not, want not

Morrisville Water & Light manager Scott Johnston said the decade-old wastewater treatment plant is in good shape to take on any new customers that would move to town in the coming years.

Johnston said the plant is currently at 53 percent of its daily flow capacity and, even if each of those roughly 400 housing units got hooked up to the village water supply, it would only put the wastewater plant at roughly 60-65 percent.

“You don’t even have to put your hand up and start thinking about capacity until you hit around 80 percent, which is when you’ve got to start working with the state about what you’re going to do to further lower the loads or expand your plant, or any of that sort of stuff,” Johnston said. “We’re nowhere near any sort of worry about whether this is going to become a constraint on growth or any of those sorts of things.”

This rosy outlook on the village wastewater capacity might surprise some who remember the utility sounding the alarm bell in early 2019 that the plant was nearing its capacity to handle high strength waste like that produced by breweries and maple syrup producers. At that point, the actual load was about 78 percent of the capacity, and slightly over when it came to the sewage allocations to its beverage producing customers.

Fast-forward three years, and the plant is sitting at about 57 percent when it comes to its “BOD load.” BOD, or biological oxygen demand, is not a thing, but rather a measurement of a process — the amount of dissolved oxygen needed to break down organic matter in wastewater.

How did the plant increase its BOD capacity by more than 20 percent in three years? Johnston, who has only been on the job for a month and a half, said the heavy waste producers themselves can be credited for that, by changing their practices — they “side-stream” or divert much of their waste, such as used grain from the beer making process, before it ever hits the sewer.

“What I know of them is they all really care about the environment and they all care about their community, and we’ll keep working really close together to make sure this doesn’t become a headline that ever comes back,” he said.

Residential wastewater doesn’t put nearly as much strain on the system. Even at just over half capacity, Johnston said the sewer plant can comfortably process about 250,000 gallons of wastewater a day. Adding 400 residential units would add about 60,000 gallons per day.

“I think being at 53 percent halfway through a normal 20- to 25-year cycle means we’re right where we should be, and we’re not bumping up against any head room without time to react,” Johnston said.

Plus, all those new users will mean plenty of new revenue to pay for upgrades a decade or so from now.

Graham Mink, a Morristown developer who has built up the entire Bridge Street area near the village bypass and has a 136-unit project on Jersey Heights in the planning phase — the biggest in town history, zoning officials noted — said he’s in tune with the village wastewater capacity, and he’s never received any message suggesting he needs to hit the brakes.

He said he and other developers pay fees to connect to the wastewater system, and those add up.

“It depends on the site, and how many bedrooms, and the size of the flow, but I’m usually writing a check for $25,000 to the town,” Mink said.

Student bodies

The Morristown schools are also in good shape to accept however many new kids may move into the system as all those in-development housing units get filled, according to Lamoille South superintendent Ryan Heraty.

“Our kindergarten enrollment is actually down this year, so I would actually love to see increased enrollment. I think it would be really positive for us,” Heraty said.

School district officials even play a small role in the permitting process. He said his office receives an “anticipated enrollment increase’ form that predicts how many new students a particular development may bring to the school system, and he fills out whether the elementary, middle and high school system has the capacity for those kids.

He shared a recent “school impact questionnaire” from the state as part of the Act 250 process for a 23-unit complex. The estimated number of students for that complex was listed as six.

He said there are some population bubbles — next year’s seventh- and ninth-grade classes are “pretty big cohorts” — but the student-to-teacher ratios are comfortable and there’s plenty of brick-and-mortar space in the buildings.

“Right now, with anything that’s come to us, we have felt like we’ve had plenty of room for them,” Heraty said, adding that he’s noticed a lot of the buildings going up are one-bedroom units, and he wonders what the actual effect on schools those will bring.

More important, he said, new housing doesn’t just bring in new kids, but makes it easier to recruit new teachers and staff. He said a couple of administrators the district was trying to recruit recently “were very concerned about housing,” and one of them took themselves out of the contest, citing a lack of housing as a factor. The other found a place elsewhere within a reasonable driving range.

“There was enough availability in some of the bordering towns, but trying to find housing within our current school district is very difficult,” Heraty said.

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