Friday, September 22, 2000
Deed restrictions push BOH to limit
Believe it or not, you can build more bathrooms than bedrooms without affecting the size of your septic system. Carlisle homeowners seem to grapple with that counter-intuitive issue, meeting after meeting after meeting, and the September 12 meeting of the Carlisle Board of Health (BOH) was no different. The board kicked off the meeting with a scheduled discussion on criteria for approving deed restrictions, later reviewing five separate applications involving such restrictions.
Unfortunately, restricting the number of rooms that can be used as bedrooms on the deed to the house has emerged as the last hope for many builders and homeowners to increase a home's room size without incurring an expensive increase in septic system size.
Builders may submit plans for a home with an unfinished basement, attic, or even an entire floor, offering a septic plan adequate only for the to-be-finished bedrooms. Homeowners request approval to finish a basement, add a playroom, or heat a workshop, only to discover after review that technically, the area qualifies as a bedroom. (Bathrooms are excluded from this count.)
When builders and homeowners are shown how adding potential rooms would increase the required capacity of their septic system, many decide instead to restrict the number of bedrooms allowed in the deed to the property. While such a move may limit marketing a home to its full potential, builders and homeowners are often willing to accept this limitation rather than incur the costs of an upgraded system -- often more than $20,000.
Specifying deed restriction requirements
BOH Chairman Steve Opolski prefaced the discussion by restating the board's policy -- to adopt liberal guidelines while "clarifying and maximizing consistency." He did this for the benefit of the audience, as well as for newest board member Martha Bedrosian.
Member Lisa Davis Lewis suggested some basic guidelines. These included:
· Allowing restrictions for two additional rooms, with only one qualifying as a bedroom.
· Consideration of the addition of more than three rooms only with stringent review of actual water flow data (occupancy, usage, and system size).
· Mandated inspection on septic system if built prior to 1993 (before groundwater offset imposed).
· Required expansion if inspected system fails.
Representatives from engineering firms in attendance pointed out that the current Carlisle requirements are already very restrictive, claiming that the per bedroom restriction imposed by the state assumes two-person occupancy per bedroom. In Carlisle, they pointed out, many children have bedrooms of their own and many houses have guest bedrooms. This factor may add a de facto buffer to current requirements, and may contribute to the board's willingness to grant deed restrictions for existing homes when owners seek to expand their systems.
"We should let people do what they want...as long as it doesn't affect public health," said BoH Chairman Steve Opolski. "The welfare of the people of Carlisle has to be weighted above that of the individual."
"Newer houses do have better designed systems than older houses," pointed out Lewis. "The tendency to grandfather older properties could be perceived as the Board punishing new construction." Opolski agreed, but added that new construction plans often include "more marginal lands" closer to wetlands than the older, existing lots. "We should let people do what they want...as long as it doesn't affect public health," he concluded. "The welfare of the people of Carlisle has to be weighted above that of the individual."
Public hearings test board guidelines
In hearings on individual requests following the guidelines discussion:
The board approved a system upgrade with two local waivers for a repair at 245 Russell Street by Forsyth Engineering. In the first waiver, the wetlands are less than 100 feet from the tank and pump. In the second, the lot's high water level could not accommodate the buffer space for a disposal system, so the property had to have a deed restriction prohibiting a garbage grinder (disposal).
The board also approved a system upgrade for 133 Partridge Lane by Norris Engineering with one local waiver. The septic tank and pump chamber are situated less than 100 feet from the well, but there are no other possible locations on the lot. The BOH requires staking of the tank during the work.
After much discussion, the board approved a plan for an addition with two deed restrictions at 55 Hartwell Road. Although the Assessor's Office taxes the house for nine rooms, the BOH counted ten. As such, the septic system is already too small according to current regulations. To limit usage after the addition, the board decided to put the two restrictions on the house: one to keep it to four bedrooms and one to prohibit use of a garbage disposal. The latter restriction requires removal of a unit currently in the kitchen. The owner also must have the septic system pumped to verify condition of the system.
The request for an addition at 454 Cross Street passed as well. The board expressed concern about more than doubling the house footprint: the house is 1,600 square feet and the addition will bring in another 2,000 square feet. The members put two deed restrictions on the property: one to allow only three bedrooms and the second to not allow a garbage disposal.
After reviewing plans for an addition at 474 School Street the board concluded the owner had three options: expand the system, remove a partition (decreasing room count), or add a deed restriction to six bedrooms. The owner of the 13-room dwelling decided on the deed restriction.
The board reviewed a survey plan for One River Road from Boston Gas and decided that the requested plan was sufficient.
Finally, the board nullified a septic plan permit for owner-under-agreement to 100 Bellows Hill Road. The previous owner had presented incorrect data, indicating that a 5-bedroom septic system would be sufficient. In fact, a 6-bedroom system would be required to obtain approval.
Corrected plans gain rubber stamp
The BOH reviewed six Subsurface Sewage Disposal System plans. The board:
· Approved improved redesign plan at 456 South Street prepared by Acton Survey & Engineering.
· Approved revised septic repair at 170 Lowell Street by Norse Environmental Services, Inc.
· Approved plan for 397 River Road prepared by Stamski & McNary.
· Approved plan for 388 Stearns Street prepared by H*Star Engineering subject to verification of existing well.
· Rejected plan for 80 Wildwood from Acton Survey & Engineering requesting changes and more testing.
· Rejected plan for 7 School Street from New England Engineering requiring correction of errors.
The board tabled items for Lot 1 Davis Road and 147 School Street as the plans did not come in as scheduled. These items should reappear on the agenda when the board next convenes on Tuesday, September 26 at 7:30.
© 2000 The Carlisle Mosquito