Friday, October 27, 2006
ZBA feels heat on Coventry Woods
While the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) received what Chair Cindy Nock called "lots of information" about the Coventry Woods development at its public hearing on Monday, October 16, the focus of the meeting ended up being more about process than content. At various points throughout the evening, the board, the developer, the abutters and members of other town boards in attendance expressed frustration with the sometimes circular and confusing direction the project has taken throughout its application process. Even the town's peer engineering report was referred to at times as lacking adequate detail and analysis.
Town Counsel explains the process
Town Counsel Dan Hill noted that while the ZBA is at an "intense level" in the Coventry Woods project review, the board is still in the data collection phase of the process. Each time the developer submits new plans, the board is required to seek feedback from other town boards and hold a public hearing to discuss that feedback. Hill explained that with new data still coming in, the ZBA cannot rush to judgment. However, the board is also aware that the developer's patience is wearing thin. "The ZBA is struggling with this," said Hill.
On Monday night, Michael Paonessa of the engineering firm Beals and Thomas, Inc., summarized his firm's review of Mark O'Hagan's revised plans and documentation for the proposed 41-unit development on 22 acres on Concord Street, presented to the ZBA three weeks ago.
Because 25% of the units will meet state affordability criteria, the developer is allowed under state statute Chapter 40B to bypass the normal local permitting process, and instead seek a comprehensive permit from the ZBA. Even though the developer is not required to obtain formal approval from other town boards, these boards and other individuals have reviewed and commented on the project at many steps along the way. So far, the Board of Health (BOH) and Fire Chief David Flannery have submitted their comments on the new plans to the ZBA. Responses from the other boards are expected before the ZBA's next meeting on November 20.
Although the Beals and Thomas report was organized primarily into two groups — resolved and unresolved issues — there was not always agreement as to whether an issue had actually been resolved. The landscape plan, for example, was deemed appropriate by Beals and Thomas but abutters, who did not think there was nearly enough detail, reminded O'Hagan that even he had called the plan a "work in progress" when he presented it three weeks ago.
The report also reiterated the request for a site lighting plan "to better comment on the potential for the impact of lighting to adjacent properties." In addition to placing seven eight-foot post lights around the property, O'Hagan said he is installing lights in the front and back of each building that are "the same as what you have at home." Abutter Michael Epstein noted, "if it's like we have at home, fine, but that's one light per two acres. This is 41 units close together." ZBA member Ed Rolf requested that, if necessary, the lights be "diverted so as not to shine through the woods towards the abutters."
Will town's largest septic system need monitoring?
When the board discussed the BOH's recommendation that the developer install a monitoring well downhill from septic system C near the Epstein/Stone well, O'Hagan said, "I don't think it's necessary. What's the limit? There's a point where we don't need to do anymore."
The BOH had recommended the monitoring well in part to protect abutters in the future because ground water moves slowly and abutter well contamination, if it occurs, might not be detected for several years.
ZBA member Steve Hinton wanted to know why O'Hagan objected to a monitoring well, which is relatively inexpensive. "I see it as a good early warning, like a canary in a coal mine," said Hinton. "It's reliable and not costly." O'Hagan said he was trying to make the point that he was reaching his limit: "We've met the conditions. We've moved from 105 to 150 feet [the distance between septic C and the Epstein/Stone well] which is more than is required by law." O'Hagan was referring to the 100-foot septic-to-well setback required by the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) under Title 5. While the developer meets this requirement, the size of the system and the multiple housing units that will be using it has caused the BOH and abutters to seek more safeguards.
"This isn't like any other septic system in Carlisle," Epstein said. "It's the largest septic system in town. Our engineer has told us that this is the most significant risk to abutters. It's hard to understand why he doesn't want to add a monitoring well."
Nock said that she wants to see the updated set of conditions and all the remaining boards' responses by the next meeting on November 20. "The boards' questions should be specific," she said. "We need to firm this up."
"Specific questions are okay," said O'Hagan. "But general reviews, general memos — we're done. We're not spending any more money."
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