Friday, October 17, 2003
ConsCom resists construction in wetland buffer zone
The applicants were perhaps unfortunate to have to argue their case before the Conservation Commission (ConsCom) at a time when the ConsCom was dealing with a flood of Wetland Protection Act violations. (See story on page 5.) Richard and Heidi Parker were present October 9 for a continued hearing on their request for approval of a proposed house, driveway, septic system, well and associated grading, all of which would require 17,500 square feet of work within a "Bordering Vegetated Wetland."
When the hearing first opened on September 26, the Commission had suggested additional soil testing to see if a less invasive siting plan might be possible. On October 9, Parker addressed the group to explain why the location of the house should not be changed. He contended that pulling the house and septic system forward out of the buffer zone, as suggested, would bring the building and mounded septic field too close to the road, requiring many large trees to be cut down. Explaining that he and his family have lived on West Street for many years · although they may make a move in the not too distant future · the applicant said, "I don't want to be a party to harming a scenic road." Chair Tricia Smith admitted that aesthetic considerations are fine, but that the Commission's charter is to protect the well-being of the wetlands. While granting the Commission's major focus, Parker insisted that other considerations were "germane" even if they were not "primary."
Smith indicated that she and her colleagues were leery of developers who were interested primarily in making their properties more salable rather than environmentally sound. When Parker remonstrated that he was not a "developer," Smith shot back, "If you have undeveloped property that you wish to build on for a profit, you are a developer." She again stressed that the board's goal was to minimize buffer zone damage.
Smith then asked Joseph March of Stamski and McNary, the engineer retained by the applicants, to show how his revised plan approached the Commission's concern about undue disturbance. Referring to the board's original suggestion to move construction out of the buffer zone, March said he agreed with his client that such a change would be "unsightly." He explained that he wanted to put the septic system on an existing knoll and bring the house footprint up to it as close as possible in order to lessen the amount of grading required. It would be possible to build an L-shaped house and move the garage to the front, thus keeping the disturbance at least 35 feet from the wetland. "I think this is a plan that utilizes the terrain, diminishes the grading involved and eliminates the sharp drops," he said.
Observing again that the proposed location of the house placed it 95% in the buffer zone, Commissioner Roy Watson predicted that future owners of the property would be sorely tempted to enlarge their back yard by clearing even closer to the wetland. He insisted, "We have an opportunity now to avoid such trouble later, perhaps after you folks are long gone."
When Commissioner Tom Brownrigg suggested rotating the house rather than moving the building to minimize buffer zone impact, March said that such a change would require further soil testing, which couldn't legally take place until the spring high water period.
Since there appeared to be an impasse and the meeting was already running late, the Commission voted to close the public hearing and postponed a decision on the plan as presented by March until their October 23 meeting.
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