Friday, October 4, 2002
Conservation commission proposes higher fees
The Carlisle Conservation Commission (ConsCom) has drafted a substantially higher schedule of fees for processing individual and commercial filings required under the Massachusetts Wetland Protection Act (WPA). One or more of these applications is mandatory whenever construction or site disturbance is planned within the 100-foot buffer zone that surrounds wetland resource areas, and in Carlisle, this means it can affect many of us.
The proposed changes will replace an unrealistic, across-the-board fee of $25 that was embedded in the 1992 Carlisle Wetland Protection Bylaw. A new fee structure was authorized at the 2002 Spring Town Meeting following recommendations from the commission, the board of selectmen and the finance committee. The purpose, as explained there, was to bring Carlisle's charges into line with the real costs to the town for processing the applications, a step that had already been taken by most other communities in the commonwealth. The commission was duly empowered to set the new schedule following a mandatory public hearing.
At its September 19 meeting, ConsCom considered a new rate structure proposed by subcommittee members Jonathan Beakley, Christine Kavalauskas and conservation administrator Sylvia Willard. The presenters stressed that their recommendations were calculated to reflect the actual expenses incurred by the commission as their administrator evaluated each application, made a site visit, suggested construction guidelines, processed the paperwork and later followed up on compliance. The figures were then compared to the ones now in effect in surrounding towns to produce a fair balance. (See box.)
Beakley noted that the recommended $50 charge for an RDA did not really cover the cost, but said subcommittee members elected to keep the amount low, so that people who were uncertain about the status of their property would not be discouraged from coming in, and risk a fine later. This approach was accepted.
NOI fees vary widely
Filing fees for NOIs varied widely. The $275 charge for investigating and processing a filing for a single family house was based on $20 per hour of the administrator's time, again an amount that would cover only the simplest of filings. Commissioner Tricia Smith observed that some other towns, Bedford and Burlington included, tack on added fees for the degree or area of disturbance involved, but chair Kavalauskas was reluctant to adopt that approach, saying, "We just want to cover cost, not punish applicants for the amount of disturbance."
Commissioner Roy Watson raised the possibility of having variable fees and charging the actual per-hour amount per filing, as some other towns do, but again Kavalauskas warned, "Billing after the fact would be an administrative nightmare!" Beakley agreed, saying that the last thing the commission wanted to do was design a system that was so complicated it frustrated all involved."
When it came to category 3 or a multi-unit development or subdivision, the basic fee would be $500. However, if part or all of the access roadways were in the buffer zone, there would be an additional charge of $2 per linear foot, capped at $2,000. Category 4, which includes more serious disturbance of a resource area, such as wetland crossings, filling and mandatory replications, or the threat of introducing hazardous materials also carries an additional fee of $500 per crossing plus 50 cents per square foot of wetland alteration.
Category 6 (ANRAD) is merely a charge of 50 cents per foot for validating the boundaries of a wetland as drawn by the applicant's environmental engineer. For large projects, the commission often requires a peer review by a qualified consultant at the applicant's expense, which can cost in the vicinity of $2,000.
Public hearing, October 24
The commission has scheduled the required public hearing for 8 p.m. on October 24, at the Town Hall, at which time both the proposed new fees and the rationale behind them will be presented for input from Carlisle citizens and area developers. Come with your questions and concerns or hold your peace, at least for the foreseeable future.
© 2002 The Carlisle Mosquito