Friday, September 28, 2001
|Repair of a septic system turns into a land-management nightmare|
It began nearly a year ago with a plan to repair a failed septic system. And now, after multiple trips to the planning board, the board of selectmen and the board of health it's still not over for Carol and Charles Cox of Wildwood Drive.
The Cox's septic repair plan was readily approved by the board of health last fall, but required them to adjust the property lines between their lot at 80 Wildwood Drive and another Cox-owned lot at 100 Wildwood, which was under a sale agreement to the current tenants, Julian and Jill Taverner. Unfortunately, this was not done, but the new septic system was installed this summer in June and July.
Illegal lot line
At a planning board meeting on September 10 this year, the Coxes were advised that a lot line between the two parcels, as proposed, did not comply with regulations. Planning board administrator George Mansfield also noted that a portion of the land that is being exchanged is in Chapter 61, a forestry tax classification. It is this portion that has the newly built septic system. Chapter 61 requires the owner to notify the town and the state any time that land is taken out of forestry protection.
Land in Chapter 61
Hoping to make it legal after the fact, Carol Cox and her attorney William F. Martin appeared at the September 18 selectmen's meeting to ask for a waiver of the town's right of first refusal under Chapter 61, the Forestry Preservation Act. Chapter 61 allows a landowner to obtain a lower tax rate by agreeing to place restrictions on the use of forest land. One restriction provides the town with a right of first refusal at the time a sale or change of use is accomplished. The change of use must be approved by the board of selectmen
Approval sought after the fact
Selectman Tim Hult questioned why the waiver was not obtained before installation of the septic system, as was required. Replied Martin, "The engineer was not aware the land was in Chapter 61." He added, "It was not the intent of the Coxes to subvert the legal process, it was just an oversight." Selectman John Ballantine wondered why the planning board would have missed the Chapter 61 designation. According to town administrator Madonna McKenzie, "The board of assessors keeps the registration, but it's up to the owner to come forward" when a change is requested. It was also pointed out that the engineer and board of health should have noticed the septic area crossed a lot line, even though both lots were under the same name.
Selectman Doug Stevens offered his perspective, "The land is of limited use to the town, and it's unlikely we would have exercised our right of first refusal. But it's disappointing. Everyone's happy to take the rights but then they overlook the responsibilities. We don't want to send the message it's OK to do this, to go ahead and then get the approvals after the fact."
A proposal to swap a section of land for the piece under question was turned down as the two pieces were not considered comparable. The selectmen then voted to release the land from Chapter 61with the understanding the Coxes would be liable for past tax savings on that piece dating back to when the lot was put under protection.
Lot lines approved, but..
With the chapter 61 issues resolved, the planning board, at their September 24 meeting, approved the new plot plans. However, board chairman Michael Abend noted that this new plan has the septic system within approximately five feet of the lot line. Board of health regulations require a setback of ten feet.
It's not over. The Coxes will need to return to the board of health to request a lot line set-back waiver.
© 2001 The Carlisle Mosquito