Friday, August 25, 2006
ConsCom re-opens Fields case, questions Virginia Farme structure
When is a victory not a victory? Just ask Edward and Linda Fields and their Stamski and McNary engineer George Dimakarakos. On July 27 the trio left a Conservation Commission meeting believing (as did the Mosquito reporter) that their application to build in a problematic location off Bedford Road had the commission's approval. The public hearing on their Notice of Intent had been closed and they had been told that, owing to the complexity of their case, the official Order of Conditions would require careful drafting, and therefore would not be forthcoming until the August 10 meeting.
What then was their reaction when Chairman Roy Watson informed them that the commission had discovered new information that introduced a "potentially fatal flaw" in the documentation. Therefore, Watson asked the applicants to re-open the hearing, because otherwise the information could not be explored further. Not unexpectedly, Dimakarakos protested, pointing out that Watson had not even been present when the hearing was officially closed. Watson admitted that pursuing that route was possible, but said it would only prolong the desired resolution of the discrepancy.
The chairman explained further that the problem dated back to the year 1983 when the Planning Board had first approved a common drive and five potential lots on the parcel, and 2001 when a special permit was requested and the Fire Chief expressed concern about insufficient water for fire protection. Dimakarakos and Watson argued back and forth about the sequence of events and the relevancy of Watson's legal interpretation, until the latter indicated that there was obvious ambiguity in the records. "I may be right, and you may be right," the chairman said, "but the best way to solve our problem is to re-open the hearing and discuss the matter further."
Other commissioners pointed out that there were two other less pleasant options, should the Fields choose to refuse the request. The commissioners could vote to deny the application "for lack of pertinent information," and/or the Fields could take them to court. On the other hand, they could agree to re-open the hearing, so the misunderstandings could be resolved. Clearly disgruntled, the couple chose to re-open and allow Watson and Dimakarakos to pursue the matter further.
The last-minute muddle had arisen after the Fields and their engineer had apparently won a right to construct a family dwelling on a lot that impinges on a restricted 200-foot Riverfront Area that follows Pages Brook, rather than on one of two alternate locations that are outside the protected zone. Their argument had relied on a clause in the state Riverfront Act that permits a 10% incursion into a riverfront zone, even if an otherwise acceptable alternate location exists, if the applicant can prove that use of the alternate site would entail significant cost. Since their cost estimates as presented had appeared to justify the variation, the public hearing had been closed; but subsequent information now cast some doubt on their calculations. Closure will be sought at the next meeting.
Wilkins Hill assessment
uncovers possible abutter violation
As anticipated, the commission has issued an Order of Resource Delineation to Wilkins Hill Realty for the 133.5-acre undeveloped tract (Wilson Land) between Westford and Curve Streets. That order indicates ConsCom acceptance of wetland boundaries that will determine the extent of the board's jurisdiction under the Wetland Protection Act, when and if development occurs, but an unpleasant offshoot of the exploration snagged Virginia Farme Lane homeowner Kenneth Luther. The Wilkins reviewers that had included Dr. John Rockwood, Wetland Biologist David Crossman and Conservation Administrator Sylvia Willard had spotted a garage on his property that appeared to have been built without benefit of a ConsCom filing. Asked to attend the August 10 session, Luther appeared with his attorney, Pam Brown, who announced that she is also the holder of a degree in environmental science. The homeowner explained that he had purchased the last lot on the lane some time ago, that it bordered a town easement and that it had contained an amorphous assortment of materials left over from previous construction in the mature development. Brown's approach was cooperative, as she noted that she had not had time to inspect the property but would like to visit the site with Willard "to check whether the structure really is within your [ConsCom's] jurisdiction." After looking at photographs taken from the Wilkins Hill property, she conceded that there might be erosion in the area and added that, "We would be glad to work with you on that and related drainage issues."
Commissioner Tricia Smith said it appeared from the pictures that a violation had occurred, but that she would not want to require the applicant to file a Notice of Intent, if it turned out to be a borderline problem. "Why don't we accept a Request for Determination of Applicability [which is less onerous] and see what the situation really is" she suggested. All agreed, and the applicant promised to return in September with an RDA, which will determine whether or not further filings will be required.
© 2006 The