The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, June 9, 2000


Fee refund request and grandfathered septic system pose perplexing problems

Who says that real-life drama can't unfold at a meeting of the board of health? One family will have to suffer a minor disappointment, while another is caught in a potential Carlisle homeowner's nightmare, pinned between conflicting town regulations.

First, the Marches of 80 Log Hill Road requested a refund of a $100 fee on a perc test they were forced to cancel because of rain, but they did so after the deadline of 3 p.m. the day before. "The rain and water table was high enough you couldn't get it to perc," explained consultant Rob Frado. Chair Steve Opolski objected to waiving the fee. "Who gets hurt here?" he asked Frado. "If you schedule your day, I don't feel that it's fair to penalize you [consultant Rob Frado]. I don't think we don't pay you. Who pays for it?"

Member Lisa Davis Lewis agreed. "If Rob is billing us, we have no choice but to bill them. Send a letter back to Mr. March, and say that we understand your situation, but we have to pay our consultant for his time and have to pass that along to the customer. We have a cancellation deadline." And so it was agreed that an exception would not be made to the perc test deadline. Homeowners were advised, "In the future, watch the Weather Channel!"

Sunset Road septic system

Next, the discussion turned to Ann and Nick Carr's request to install a new septic system for their home at 127 Sunset Road, prior to securing a building permit for a family room expansion. Because they had inadvertently missed the April perc test deadline, and a two-bedroom septic system had been grandfathered for their four-bedroom home, a 45-minute debate ensued that ultimately satisfied no one. At the end of the discussion, an apologetic Opolski admitted to a frustrated Nick Carr that this was "an unusual situation, I haven't seen it before." Basically, the Carrs were given the choice of delaying their entire project (family room expansion and all) for a year, when the perc test could be performed in spring, according to "new construction" regulations; or seeing if their system could fail Title 5, thus allowing them to perform an emergency "repair" of the grandfathered septic.

Architect Gardner introduced the problem. "This is an existing four-bedroom house. The owner proposes to add a family room and go from a seven-room house to an eight-room house. When I looked through the files, I found the previous owner had expanded a two-bedroom house to a four-bedroom house and [had established] that the leaching field could accommodate a four-bedroom house. That was all that was required at the time. "

Opolski considered the situation. With the family room addition, "you would still classify as a four-bedroom....We have reason to believe what's in the ground is not a four-bedroom [septic] system, but you already have a four-bedroom house. That is a twist."

Frado pointed out that the owners could do a Title 5 test, but if it passes, they've got to wait until next spring for the perc test.

Opolski jumped in. "Get Title 5. Then you have two years to fix it but you have to fix it.....If you are doing voluntary upgrade, you have to meet the new requirements."

Frado agreed. "If it [the system] doesn't fail, they've just wasted their money. If it is voluntary, you have to meet all the local zoning."

Then, there was the question of what the board would do if the Carrs couldn't meet the new regulations. Opolski speculated, "We could deed restrict the house. It isn't our fault it wasn't policed 15 years ago. At the time, the existing system appeared adequate. The best thing is if the system fails, believe it or not."

Frado repeated, for new construction, "we don't waive requirements. With a repair, you do the best you can."

Ann Carr joined in. "My fear is that we do the perc test and then determine that it is not possible to expand the septic physically on the site. The house is near wetlands and a steep hill."

Opolski replied. "You're between a system and a wetland. Check the system and if it fails, we allow the repair. If it doesn't fail, come back in spring and do a voluntary upgrade."

The architect added, "At that point, we want a building permit." Opolski agreed. "Come back, get a plan, get a permit, but the new septic system has to be in before you get a certificate of occupancy. Or, it could go in concurrently."

However, when asked what happens if they can't fit a four-bedroom septic system on the site, Frado responded, "It gets messy."

"It sounds like you are saying wait until it fails, even if it takes ten years," lamented Nick Carr.

"Since the system looked high when it was pumped, it may fail," Opolski added in consolation. "It goes against the saying, 'If it isn't broke, don't fix it.'"

After this, other approval requests seemed much more routine.

Other requests

Joe and Diane Nelson of Lot 13 Davis Road asked to change the location of their system which caused ice to build up at front door level and the melted snow to flow into the pumping station. It was "aesthetically horrible looking." The board approved the request unanimously.

Another request for a new system (prior to the sale of the property) at 271 Maple was also accorded board approval.

The plans for systems at the Great Brook subdivision conservation cluster were found to be in compliance. Plans for lots 1-9 of Great Brook Path were rejected based upon engineering review.

The board voted to reapprove the revised plans for Lot 2 Buttricks Lane, without extending the date. They rejected the plans for Lot 11A Pheasant Hill Lane for safety reasons.

Plans for Lot 4 High Woods were approved, subject to filing an easement for the driveway, while plans for 100 Bellows Hill Road were rejected based upon the recommendation of the board's consultant.

Board of health summer meetings shall take place on June 13 and 27, and July 18.

2000 The Carlisle Mosquito