An ordinance revising the requirements for connecting to Arcata's sewer system will come back for final adoption on Jan. 15 after the city council voted unanimously Wednesday, with Councilman Shane Brinton absent, to move forward with the changes.

”I really think this is reasonable, and it's time we stepped up to the plate and put this in place,” Councilwoman Alex Stillman said.

Under the ordinance, the existing code would be amended to allow property owners who have functioning on-site sewer disposal systems to continue to operate them if the system hasn't failed -- and isn't at risk of failure -- under the Humboldt County Environmental Health Department or the city's public works director's standards.

Residents could also continue to operate their systems if the owner proposes a new expansion or construction on the property that wouldn't exceed the existing system's capacity, based on criteria from the public works director.

The code currently requires any property adjacent to streets which have or in the future may have a public sewer to connect to the system.

”I'm happy to see this finally happen because it was an issue for the property owners that were in OK shape and why they didn't want to be annexed into the city of Arcata,” Stillman said.

After 17 parcels in the Shirley Boulevard and Park Avenue neighborhood were incorporated into the city last spring to remedy a recurring problem pertaining to sewage disposal, one property owner whose existing system was operating without problems objected to being forced to pay connection fees to the city. Other neighbors echoed the sentiment.

Four of the parcels in the neighborhood have experienced septic system failure, requiring emergency sewer service from the city, staff said. But others haven't failed and don't appear to be in danger of imminent failure.

The Local Agency Formation Commission in July conditionally approved the annexation, with the city agreeing to amend the code.

Next year, a more comprehensive sewer ordinance will be brought before the council for consideration.

”This is the last item that's holding up that annexation, and we really didn't want to hold up that process anymore,” Community Development Director Larry Oetker told the council. “That's why we're bringing this to you separately.”

Lorna Rodriguez can be reached at 441-0506 or lrodriguez@times-standard.com. Follow her on Twitter @LornaARodriguez.