Friday, February 9, 2001
ConsCom considers broader wetlands protection
At its January 25 meeting the conservation commission got its first look at proposed changes to the Carlisle Nonzoning Wetland Bylaw being developed by an ad hoc advisory committee. Major recommendations called for a hike in filing fees and penalty levels plus buffer protection for vernal pools and Isolated Land Subject to Flooding (ILSF). They will also seek authorization to require a strip of "continuous, undisturbed vegetative cover" within both those boundaries and the existing 100-foot buffer zone that surrounds wetlands under the Massachusetts Wetland Protection Act (WPA).
In the interests of flexibility, new filing fees will not be included in the bylaw itself, as is the case at present, but will be authorized for promulgation by the commission following a public hearing. However, fines for violations will still be spelled out and will probably increase from $25 to $75 for a first offense, from $100 to $150 for a second and remain at $300 for a third and subsequent offenses.
The most significant amendments from an environmental standpoint are the sub-articles that would designate vernal pools and ILSFs as wetland resource areas and as such, "areas subject to protection." There appeared to be unanimous support for these provisions among the six commissioners present. There was also agreement on the need for the commission to be empowered to designate sensitive portions of the 100-foot zone surrounding all resource areas as off-limits for construction, grading or other disturbance. State law gives local commissions the power to "condition" activities within the 100-foot buffer zone surrounding a wetland, but not to prohibit them entirely. For this reason many Massachusetts communities have written increased local jurisdiction into their bylaws, a move that has been upheld consistently in the courts.
Most of the discussion about the preliminary draft concerned the extent of commission authority that should be specified in the bylaw itself, and what might better be left for formal definition in regulations to be drawn up following public hearings. Commissioners Jo Rita Jordan and Jonathan Beakley were particularly sensitive to probable political outcomes, while committee representatives, commissioner Christine Gaulden, former commissioner Rachel Landry and Kathleen Coyle emphasized environmental impacts.
On January 31 the commissioners' comments were reported back to the full committee, which is urging interested citizens to contribute to the discussion at a public meeting February 15 at the Town Hall. The draft, as it now reads, is available for perusal on the Web at www.carlisle.com/conscom. In addition to Gaulden, Coyle and Landry, the advisory committee includes former commissioner Christine Bopardikar and consulting members Steven Hinton and selectman John Ballantine.
A Notice of Intent (NOI) filed by Luc and Marie Wathieu for construction of a barn behind an existing house on a common drive off North Road might serve as a good illustration of the sort of situation that an amended bylaw could address. The barn in question will come within four feet of a wetland and require 2,500 square feet of work within that resource area. Wathieu explained that he wanted to "liberate" his garage from bicycles and other stored items and provide suitable housing for the family's chickens and, possibly, a pony.
Engineer William McNary explained that the location of the barn was dictated in large part by the existing septic system and a desire to avoid destroying a "stand of stately pines." Skeptical, commissioner John Lee suggested that the applicants complete a final plan "as a package," including provisions for the pony and addressing issues such as impermeable flooring and nitrogen overload from animal manure.
Neighbors, whom Wathieu had informed of his plans, expressed sympathy but registered serious concern about the proposed usage. James Saltonstall pointed out that, "This barn is kissing the wetland," and he too was concerned about manure in such close proximity to the resource area. Abutter Larry Bearfield, also uncomfortable with the animal husbandry, pointed out that previous residents owned horses but had not been permitted to build a barn.
Commissioner Eric Jensen questioned McNary's previous optimism, insisting that, "It's not possible to say this project can be conditioned to do no harm to the wetland." Lee was even more adamant, saying, "I'm not at all comfortable with this it's on the edge, and I can't okay it with a clear conscience."
Chair Tom Brownrigg brought the discussion to a close by asking the applicants to agree to a continuance to allow them to return with a plan that would get the barn farther away from the wetland. The revised NOI should also offer a complete proposal for animal management. The Wathieus will return March 8 at 8 p.m.
© 2001 The Carlisle Mosquito