Rose LaSpada Smith lives in the same house her father built in Sewickley Heights where, over the generations, she built her own memories.
The family was given the land on Scaife Road as payment for working on a local estate. Uncles emigrated from Sicily, worked and lived on the property. Her father, born in the kitchen of what is now a neighbor’s house, raised his own family there. And it's where LaSpada Smith raised her three kids.
But LaSpada Smith said she and two other families are now being forced to leave those memories behind.
William Rohe, borough manager, said septic tanks from three homes are discharging into a small stream nearby. Property owners have been ordered to either update their septic systems at a price of about $30,000 each or lose their occupancy permits.
LaSpada Smith said she was approved for a $10,000 loan, not nearly enough to cover the fix.
“We’ve been trying to fix the septic. They won’t give us an affordable approved plan,” said LaSpada Smith's daughter-in-law Crystal Smith, who also lives there.
The average appraised value of the three homes is $53,000, though for most in Sewickley Heights, an affluent suburb of Pittsburgh, the average home appraisal is $475,000, according to Allegheny County assessments.
Rohe said most of the state uses septic systems, including the majority of homes in the borough of about 900 residents. A few properties that abut Sewickley and newer homes on Sewickley Heights Drive and Glen Mitchell Road do have public sewage, he said.
Borough officials told the Tribune-Review it would be costly to connect homes to water and sewage lines because the borough’s hilly topography would require pumping stations to push the water up or down hills.
“Everyone has their own form of disposing waste on their lots,” Rohe said. “These three lots don’t have a viable solution to their problem.”
LaSpada Smith said she paid $3,000 to have a contractor design a viable solution that would help her 25-year-old septic tank pass inspection. He drew up a small flow treatment plan, the same method being used at a neighboring house that once belonged to LaSpada Smith’s parents. She said the borough turned down the plan.
According to the Tribune-Review, an inspector authorized the one home to discharge treated water into the stream, but when two others made similar requests, the state Department of Environmental Protection proposed they build a treatment facility that turned out to be too costly.
Sewickley Heights and DEP officials tried to find other solutions, such as experimental treatment systems or holding tanks, but residents said those upgrades were too expensive too, the Trib reports.
LaSpada Smith wonders why the residents can’t share a holding tank, a much cheaper solution to resolve the discharge issue, that was also not approved, she said.
Rohe said the borough is not under a consent order, but are attempting to resolve the discharge issue to protect residents. He said the owners have been offered appraised value as if there were properly-functioning septic systems, plus 10 percent because the appraisals were performed a year ago.
“We’re offering them quite a bit,” he said.
Septics inspected at two other nearby homes were determined to be fine. One belongs to Barbara McCombe, who has lived there 47 years, and believes her neighbors are being unfairly forced out.
One retired property owner who agreed to sell is picking up and moving to another state, she said.
“At 72 years old, to have to uproot her life … that’s a crime,” McCombe said.
Rohe said negotiations are ongoing. Once purchased, the homes will be demolished.
LaSpada Smith isn't sure what to do.
“It’s not the nicest house on the block. We’re not the richest people on the block, but it is a family homestead,” she said.