Friday, May 4, 2001
Planning Board reviews proposed ConsCom wetland bylaw
Three conservation commissioners and members of their Wetland Bylaw revision committee attended the planning boards May 1 meeting to invite comments and gather support for a proposed bylaw that expands the ConsComs jurisdiction over wetlands, to be presented in a Warrant article at the May 14 Town Meeting. No formal endorsment by the planning board was sought, and none was offered, but the atmosphere was collegial and the discussions were characterized as a positive learning experience for both groups.
Wetland protection strengthened
Besides bringing Carlisles existing wetland bylaw into conformity with the expanded Massachusetts Wetland Protection Act (WPA), the Warrant Article calls for the following major changes:
Proposes new fee and penalty structures
Extends buffer protection to two types of wetland features not now protected isolated lands Subject to flooding and vernal pools
Establishes a 100-foot Adjacent Upland Resource Area (AURA) that coincides exactly with the familiar 100-foot buffer zone under the WPA, but allows for local setback regulations therein.
Commissioner Christine Gaulden began her presentation with the reasons for the ConsComs request for expanded jurisdiction. Describing the WPA as affording the absolute minimum of protection to local wetland resources, she observed that over 70 towns in the state have adopted bylaws that protect isolated wetlands and establish setback requirements. Since Carlisle residents depend on wells, not public water supplies, she believes we have an
The intent of these revisions is not to prevent new construction, but to allow for responsible development.
overriding stake in preserving healthy, functioning wetlands. The intent of these revisions is not to prevent new construction, but to allow for responsible development, she insisted. Gaulden detailed the critical role played by the AURA or buffer zone in supporting wetland functions. It reduces erosion and sedimentation, retains and/or removes pollution, prevents flooding by reducing runoff velocity and provides food, shelter and migration corridors for wildlife.
Noting that as more marginal (wet) lots are developed and more houses and lawns encroach on resource areas, invasive species are introduced, erosion and polluted runoff increases and groundwater recharge rates are altered. According to Gaulden these problems are becoming more acute here because, in the present building boom, isolated wetlands are being filled, cleared to the edge or altered. Our oasis of bio-diversity in a desert of suburban sprawl is being lost, she warned.
Gaulden stressed that most impacts of the proposed bylaw would fall on new developments. The law would not apply to maintenance, repair or replacement of existing structures, as long as there was no substantial enlargement, and existing Orders of Conditions would not be affected.
Setbacks not defined
Planning board chair Michael Epstein posed an often heard question, Why did you introduce the AURA if its the same as the 100-foot buffer zone? Replied Gaulden, Because it gives us the ability to define setback requirements. She added that the AURA concept was borrowed from the town of Sudbury which has had good luck with it She expressed a strong conviction that the Carlisle commission would be able to work at least as successfully with landowners here, because Carlisles two-acre zoning offers more wiggle room.
The proposed regulations that would follow acceptance of the Bylaw call for a 35-foot no disturbance zone surrounding resource areas and a 50-foot setback for building foundations. To questions as to why the actual setback numbers were not included in the bylaw itself, the commissioner explained that ConsCom needs flexibility to deal with problem lots. Board member Kate Reid followed up with a question as to why, when delineating wetland boundaries, the state didnt include isolated wetlands, if these resource areas had the same soils and vegetation as bordering wetlands. Because the WPA was compromise legislation, and these resources are not as ubiquitous or important in many towns as they are here, Gaulden said.
Board member Michael Abend was curious as to why the pressure for revision was coming now. Have you had a public hearing? he enquired. The answer was, yes, there had been a public meeting that attracted considerable citizen input several weeks ago, and it was unprecedented development pressure that had brought the issue to the forefront.
Members Abend and Epstein gave the commissioners the benefit of their considerable experience in presenting bylaw proposals. Among other helpful hints, Abend advised them not to spell out variances in the bylaw itself but apply them to regulations only. Epstein added, Dont put too high a standard in a variance and tie your hands.
Burden on homeowners?
On the other hand, board member Dan Holtzman returned on several occasions to the articles applying to vernal pools. Certified vernal pools are protected under WPA, right? he insisted. Gaulden agreed, but was more specific. Certified pools cant be filled, but the applicant can build right to the very edge, she told him. Holtzman later concentrated on Article 3.1 titled, Presumption of Vernal Pool Habitat, which says it is presumed that a vernal pool habitat exists if a wetlands physical characteristics conform to a given definition that includes a 200 cubic foot size, absence of predatory fish, provision of breeding and rearing habitat for amphibian species, whether or not the site has been certified by the state. Item 3.1.1 lists ways in which a landowner can overcome the presumption of vernal pool habitat.
Speaking for the landowner who finds a pond in his backyard, Holtzman surmised it could take three to five years to prove that the wet spot was not just a puddle. Gaulden countered that a number of the listed criteria can be found in one season. I work for a company that can determine the issue almost immediately, she told him. Unconvinced, Holzman declared, The burden should not be on the home owner to show that Site X is not a vernal pool. Epstein closed the discussion at that point and the board turned to other business.
Planning board administrator George Mansfield reported the next day that toward the end of the evening, the board discussed the matter briefly, and decided that since no formal letter of support had been requested, and one board member felt he could not approve the article, the others would indicate their support as individuals when the Warrant Article is presented at Town Meeting.
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