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Council discusses septic regulation

by Keith Bryant | July 21, 2021 at 5:27 a.m.

The Bella Vista City Council discussed potential septic size regulation during its regular meeting Monday, July 19.

Former council member and current Bella Vistan real estate agent Linda Lloyd said the issue is that unscrupulous builders will put together a house with too many bedrooms for its septic system, often submitting floorplans that list an office or other rooms that will be converted to bedrooms -- which the house will be marketed with -- after gaining permits.

The council examined this topic previously but tabled it for further study last December.

Lloyd said this issue is compounded by low home inventory. A buyer may jump on a home that won't be able to support all the inhabitants they intend to put in it, she said.

"It's a huge problem that's only going to get worse. The marketing problem is what's making it worse," she said. "These properties are going to have malfunctioning septics sooner or later and the builder is going to be gone."

Further, she said, state law doesn't require any kind of home warranty from the builder, she said.

Community Development Services director Doug Tapp said this is a very widespread issue.

"We estimate... somewhere over 50 percent of our permits have this problem," he said.

It's not uncommon to get calls from real estate agents about oddities in listings and discrepancies in the number of bedrooms, he added.

Staff attorney Jason Kelley said he was concerned that this issue should be solved at the state level. The Arkansas Department of Health handles septic permitting, he explained, and if builders are misrepresenting their floorplans it should be something that department can act on.

"The state health department issues these permits," he said. "Why isn't the state... enforcing their own permit?"

One complication is that, because most of Bella Vista lots were platted before major revisions in 1977, they are subject to an older body of regulation, he explained.

"It does get complicated," he said.

Council member Steve Bourke said he was primarily concerned about buyer protection.

"The root cause of the problem is septic systems being installed that have insufficient capacity," he said.

One idea that has come up, he said, was to require a sticker on the electrical box listing the home's septic size.

Something like this would make it easier for people to verify that what they're looking at will meet their needs, he explained.

Mayor Peter Christie said he'd like to focus on new construction first before addressing the sale of existing homes, but he'd like to get something together soon.

Kelley said the council could expect to see a properly written ordinance as soon as August.

The council also discussed impact fees, open burning regulations, rezoning a property, repealing an ordinance for annual review of the mayor and city council members' compensation, a contract to purchase an alert system for the in-progress Fire Station 3 and a guardrail for the Metfield connector trail.

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