Friday, March 16, 2007
Homeowner's consultants spar with ConsCom over construction issues
Chances for an accommodation between the Conservation Commission (ConsCom) and homeowner Theodore Mark appeared less likely by the close of a contentious February 8 meeting at Town Hall. Mark has been represented at that and previous sessions by Attorney Alex Parra and Wetland Scientist Sean Hale, who were hired in November after Mark received a ConsCom Enforcement Order to cease work on a construction site at the corner of Concord Street and Bingham Road. The homeowner was ordered to explain and remedy what the commission had found to be serious violations of the terms of their 2005 approval of his home construction and landscaping project.
At the start of the hearing on November 30, it was agreed that the first order of business should be stabilization of the site, to be followed by a plan of long-term remediation, and finally consideration of an appropriate monetary penalty that would be directly related to Mark's compliance. The commissioners made a subsequent site visit to assess Hale's progress toward buttoning up the site for the winter and confirming the extent of discrepancies between the original Notice of Intent (NOI) and what had actually occurred during construction. The major deviations agreed upon at a December 18 meeting included unauthorized extension of a stone wall that paralleled the boundary of a wetland into the resource area itself, along with accompanying grading and associated piles of rocks and fill materials in areas not included in the original plans, plus an "ad hoc" drainage basin in the corner of the lot.
At a January 11 continuance, Hale presented an Amended NOI that called for construction of an enlarged garage and parking area, removal of the intrusive portion of the stone wall, (which he said would obviate the need for a wetland replication area in another part of the lot), and a driveway from Bingham Road rather than Concord Street. Skeptical about the feasibility of the plan to remove the unapproved section of the wall, some members asked Hale to reconsider that solution. Others found a larger garage and parking area unacceptable, since it would increase the impervious surface, and they asked that it be brought more in line with the plan originally approved. Commissioner Tricia Smith was dubious about the efficacy of the "un-engineered drainage basin." With these major issues unresolved, the commissioners sent Hale back to the drawing board to come up with a plan both parties could accept.
Modified NOI not acceptable
The modified specifications offered by Hale on March 8 retained the proposal to remove the unapproved section of the stone wall from the wetland, since he could find no suitable location for a wetland replication area on what all agreed is a tight lot. As for the questionable drainage structure, Hale reported that he would remove the concrete, keep the riprap (stone lining) and top it all off with attractive plantings. He was convinced that it would be fully functional. Further, he estimated that the paved areas had been reduced by 42% from that shown in his January specifications. Smith said she was still dubious about the overall hydrology and asked him to review the plans with their hydrology consultant. When Hale suggested that there were no formal engineering specs, she offered to send him a plan that had been used for a similar structure.
Chairman Roy Watson, who had been measuring the paved areas, pointed out that the total impervious surface connected with the garage complex was still larger than that permitted in the original design; whereupon Smith observed that the larger impenetrable surface would only add to the drainage problem. Watson then asked the Hale team why the commission should be comfortable with the bigger footprint after their client had already violated the original specifications, particularly when the increased area would produce more runoff to be handled by the drainage system. "If we wouldn't have approved it in the first place, I don't think we should approve it now," he said.
Wetland damage questioned
Parra responded immediately, saying that he found Watson's line of argument "irrelevant" to the present situation and added that he did not believe the commission had proved that there would be any harmful impact on the wetland resulting from the impervious surface or the proposed drainage arrangement. Smith reminded her colleagues and the applicant's representatives that, during the drafting of the 2005 approval, the commission had "gone out of its way" to help the applicant get an approved plan that would limit the impact on a very difficult lot, while allowing him to have a decent lawn area. "The applicant violated that plan and now comes back with a bigger plan and thinks we should approve it," she remonstrated.
Returning to Parra's assertion that the commission had not proven that the Amended NOI would impact the wetland adversely, Watson said he was leaning toward having a peer reviewer to establish whether or not the new plan was or was not more intrusive than the original, even if, as suggested, the applicant might not be willing to pay for it. Smith then posed two questions, "What is the large garage to be used for?" And "Why is the impervious apron in front of the garage so large? It suggests that a number of vehicles are expected to be parked there." She noted further that if there were issues concerning petroleum products, there could be an even more serious impact on the wetland. Hale objected that those questions concerned a private matter, and no further information was forthcoming. Shortly thereafter Parra rose and exited the room without further comment.
With time running out and others waiting to address the commission, Smith repeated her concern that there would be serious drainage problems in the future and offered to study the plans and the site more closely and send her findings to the applicant's engineer before the next meeting. The hearing was continued to March 22.
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