The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, December 22, 2006


Can the aquifer support Coventry Woods?

Chairperson Cindy Nock opened the December 18 Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) meeting with the suggestion that the board may close the Public Hearing for the Coventry Woods 40B housing development and begin deliberation. As midnight neared, however, stress levels were high, patience levels were low and the already lively dialogue became punctuated by verbal sparring matches. A major ZBA concern was the estimated loss of up to one million gallons of water per year through evaporation during lawn irrigation. Additionally, an e-mail to the board from an abutter's engineering firm, Horsley and Witton, submitted just prior to the meeting, raised issues not yet fleshed out, so the board decided to keep the hearing open for another meeting.

The board, applicant, their respective attorneys as well as abutters and interested parties continued their review and negotiation of the language in the ZBA's "draft decision." This document specifies the project scope and conditions on which the ZBA can rule on the Coventry Woods 40B application, the proposed 41-unit development on about 23 acres off Concord Street. Landscaping, blasting and scenic road bylaw discussions were discussed, the former two topics being particularly sensitive to abutters who have, to date, spent $35,000 of their own money negotiating with the applicant.

State statute Chapter 40B allows developers to bypass local zoning restrictions and instead submit a comprehensive permit application to the ZBA as long as 25% of the proposed housing units meet state affordability criteria.

Water lost to evaporation

The most provocative commentaries of the evening came from ZBA board member Steve Hinton and Greg Peterson of the Planning Board speaking out against the use of well-based irrigation systems. Hinton spoke: " I've kept my mouth shut until now .I just don't believe that Carlisle's water supply can support this level of irrigation. I offer that from my [expert] background. All we have is our aquifer, no backup, yet we are contemplating well-based irrigation.That water comes into the ground, goes up into the air and not back into the aquifer." Hinton also spoke about the two-acre zoning in Carlisle that started back in the 1950s. "The [two-acre] zoning was done to proportion out the water supply. Wells go dry; failures do happen. We're asking from the aquifer two times what people in the residences would use, a water consumption that is four and a half to six times more than what we would otherwise permit on this property. This is a problem for Carlisle. I don't think we should install a well-based irrigation system."

Nock agreed with Hinton, stating that she didn't want irrigation included in the plan from the beginning, but it reappeared. "I don't think irrigation is necessary. There are other ways to collect water — more cisterns — other than well irrigation."

Applicant Mark O'Hagan countered, "There aren't regulations about this.Everyone in town is entitled to put in irrigation wells. We aren't looking for waivers here. I wouldn't disagree with [Hinton], but there is a fundamental issue of fairness here. I don't think it's fair for everyone else in town to [have an irrigation well or be able to install one], but at [Coventry Woods] we can't do it. If this was a conventional subdivision, I don't think it's any different from how the landscaping would be irrigated." O'Hagan further commented that "We have a vested interest in the homes we are creating. If the well creates an issue, it can be dealt with."

Greg Peterson of the Planning Board added in support of Nock and Hinton that, "Yes, we don't have regulations on this subject in town. It's also true that [Carlisle] is a pretty unique system inside of Route 495 where we don't have fall-back water. It's also true that people regulate themselves. We don't need [big city] regulations. When it comes right down to it, there is a fundamental difference between inside and outside water use. Inside goes into a Title V system below root level and replenishes the aquifer. Outside irrigation is basically a 100% loss." Peterson also stressed the enormity of the impact on the aquifer from the proposed development: "The numbers that have been provided by the applicant are not small — 20,000 gallons a day [of use] during the grow-in phase and 10,000 gallons a day after the grow in period. It means we are talking about a permanent loss of one million gallons of water per year to the aquifer. This is one thing that really, really matters in this community and it's one that we need to get right."

Regarding the type of water testing proposed, Hinton further contended that one might detect a problem over the short 48-hour testing period, "but that test won't tell you long-term effects before the aquifer comes to some new stasis." O'Hagan replied, saying ,"We've agreed to everything. If the tests come out and we don't get the results, we'll deal with it [later] when the information is in."

The hearing remains open and has been continued to January 15 at an earlier time than usual, 7:30 p.m., to hear the remaining issues from the Planning Board, Board of Health and public.

2006 The Carlisle Mosquito