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When Vancouver, Wash., developer Roy Gosney sold the city on his River Watch Estates project, he wowed officials with plans for a visually stunning neighborhood that he said would attract young professionals to the community.
Five years later, Gosney and the city are at odds, and the future of Kalama's largest subdivision is in jeopardy.
At issue is a city sewer moratorium that, Gosney says, came as a surprise and imperiled his project.
Gosney has filed suit against the city and state Department of Ecology in Cowlitz County Superior Court. He contends officials did not adequately warn him that the city sewage plant was already at capacity before he invested more than $6 million in River Watch Estates.
He wants the subdivision exempted from the moratorium, which prevents those buying lots in River Watch Estates from hooking up to the sewer system.
"They (the city) didn't discuss sewer-capacity problems, and I don't know the reason why," Gosney said. "I truly believe the city wants to see the success of River Watch Estates as much as I do."
Spread over 75 acres, the 150-lot subdivision was to feature walking trails and upscale homes. Today, however, just 11 families live there and five more houses are under construction.
"Interest rates are down, and the housing market is not slow, so this should be a good time to be selling," Gosney said.
Gosney said the home sites offer spectacular views.
"This is the only place that, on a clear day, you can see downtown Portland in one direction and downtown Longview in the other," Gosney said.
Ecology records show that problems with the sewer plant go back more than a decade. The plant, built in 1974, has violated clean-water standards many times. Still, city officials were surprised when the Ecology Department ordered a moratorium on new hookups last May, said Mayor Randy Bradshaw.
"I don't think people knew what the consequences were or what was coming," he said.
Gosney said city officials did not warn him about the sewer capacity before the City Council approved the subdivision in April 1997.
City records show, however, that some officials were concerned.
Planning Commission Chairman Jim Bain asked Public Works Director Carl McCrary whether the plant could handle sewage from Gosney's subdivision. McCrary said it could, but has since acknowledged the plant was too small to handle the loads it was intended to treat.
The City Council recently decided to allow alternative sewer systems, such as septic tanks. But Gosney said some homebuyers are reluctant to be on septic-tank systems, and he'd likely end up absorbing the $3,500 to $5,500 per-lot cost of installing them.
The city is planning to build a new sewer plant, but it won't come on line for three to five years.