The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, September 15, 2006


ConsCom seeks wetlands filing for Coventry Woods 40B

The proposed location of the Coventry Woods development is shown as the shaded area on Concord Street. (Map prepared by Hal Shneider)
Storm clouds appeared to be gathering at a well-attended Conservation Commission meeting on September 7. The occasion was the first presentation of MCO Associates' current "concept plan" for the company's 41-unit Coventry Woods 40B development.

A map rolled out by applicant Mark O'Hagan included the latest changes made after over a year of negotiations involving other town boards, an abutters' organization, and the final local authority under the state's 40B legislation, the Carlisle Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA). As of their July 17 meeting, the ZBA's major concerns were still landscaping, water testing, and the possible effects of blasting during the construction phase.

After commissioners, representatives of other town boards, and abutters had a chance to study the plan, ConsCom chair Roy Watson sounded a note of caution. Recognizing that the ZBA has knowledge of zoning issues, he reminded O'Hagan that, "They are not necessarily equally conversant with Conservation Commission considerations." As an example he called attention to the amount of construction envisioned within the 100-foot buffer zones of wetland resources. Given the commission's consistent effort to reduce construction within these areas, he predicted that, "We will have issues."

O'Hagan countered with the observation that affordable housing developments assume increased units, and that his company has already decreased density within the project from 56 to 41 units. After both O'Hagan and Watson had expressed their respective intentions to cooperate on finding solutions, the meeting again assumed an atmosphere of restrained confrontation.

Returning to the matter of buffer zone intrusion, Watson observed that at least half the housing units were within the buffer zone with some "literally within inches of the wetland itself." He added that the commission had never approved a project as dense as that proposed by O'Hagan, particularly within a buffer zone. For that reason he recommended that O'Hagan file an official Notice of Intent (NOI) covering the entire project as soon as possible.

Previous interaction between the developers and the commission had involved issuance in late 2004 of an Order of Resource Area Delineation (ORAD) that confirmed mutual recognition of the boundaries of all wetland areas and thus the extent of ConsCom jurisdiction on the 21-acre site. Also, in June of 2005, the commission okayed an NOI for construction of a five-acre, well-testing installation within the property. The permit was extended in June of this year.

Watson reminded O'Hagan of previous warnings that neither the ORAD nor the NOI for the testing site implied approval of the overall construction project. He noted that, in fact, the commission had "serious issues" with drainage and storm water management specifications. To that concern Commissioner Peter Burn added that confirmation of the existence of three vernal pools on the site also raised a question about the need for a wildlife assessment, and Conservation Administrator Sylvia Willard pointed out that plans call for replacing an ancient culvert with a 32-foot-wide, 30-foot long bridge. She said this assured that there would be considerable alteration to a wetland area that would require careful conditioning.

To emphasize the need for a timely NOI containing detailed engineering specifications, Watson explained that Coventry Woods is one of the largest two or three developments the town has ever dealt with, and while 40B makes it possible, if not obligatory, that the ZBA waive most local zoning bylaws, it cannot waive environmental requirements under the state's Wetland Protection Act (WPA.) "The statutory presumption is that anything that impacts the wetland is within our jurisdiction," he said, " and even if a local commission approves a violation of the state statute, the Department of Environmental Protection can, and has been known to, overrule that decision."

Again O'Hagan told the commission that he was prepared to work with them to try to reach an accommodation, and if that did not work, that there is "a prescribed process" for settling such issues. Although Selectman John Williams and ZBA chairman Cindy Nock were present, they did not comment on the discussion.

During most of the session, abutters were encouraged to ask questions and comment on the proceedings. Referring to the issues of dense construction in the buffer zone and its possible impact on the water supply, Russell Street resident Alex Parker said, "That's major and it affects all of us." Concord Street abutter Patricia Tambone asked O'Hagan about the plan to leave the matter of water management and infrastructure maintenance in the hands of future homeowners. "Are you establishing a budget that will take care of that?" she asked.

This brought a comment from Willard on one matter admittedly not within the commission's purview, to the effect that there would be a lot of people needing to meet for any future homeowner's association. "A community room would have been nice," she said. To which Watson added that a community building would certainly be appreciated, even for merely social events. "We have no hotels, motels or meeting facilities within easy reach," he said. That was one suggestion O'Hagan did not choose to pursue.

2006 The Carlisle Mosquito