The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, July 4, 2008

BOH gives Ferns preliminary approval for expansion without café

On June 24, the Board of Health (BOH) approved the Ferns Country Store site plan review pre-application to add a middle building joining the store with the adjacent garage. The decision includes conditions that septic flow rates remain within range and that there is no café/lounge or public bathroom.

According to Ferns proprietor Larry Bearfield, an earlier plan to add café seating for up to 24 patrons has been postponed. Officials have told him that the café/lounge would trigger a requirement to provide a public bathroom, which might then require that the well meet standards for a public water supply. This in turn could impact the specifications for the septic system. For the immediate future, Bearfield will seek only to expand the retail operation.

The Board of Selectmen (BOS) asks applicants to seek preliminary approval from other relevant boards prior to beginning the formal application with the Selectmen. Site plan reviews are required for non-residential building projects that intensify the use of the property, for example, by increasing the number of visitors or employees.

The 0.6-acre property, located at the corner of Lowell Street and Bedford Road, is owned by Robert Daisy and Barbara Culkins, and has been leased since 2003 to Carlisle Center Ventures, LLC. Bearfield is CEO of Carlisle Center Ventures and manages Ferns with his wife, Robin Emerson.

Septic system

Questions relating to the septic system include the amount of work and whether it will be affected by the soil contamination in the area of the former gas station. The new plan calls for moving the septic tank outside the expanded building envelope to a position six feet away from the new building foundation slab, maintaining the limited separation that has been permitted under variances granted by the town and state for the septic system in 1996. No other major septic changes are being proposed.

Septic system requirements are dependent on whether the expansion is considered “new construction” under state Title 5 regulations. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) ruled in 2006 that the project with café/bathroom would be considered new construction. In 2007 the state clarified that a renovation would be acceptable if the septic system design flow is not increased and the project does not include a public bathroom or public water supply.

Bearfield’s engineering firm, Stamski and McNary, has written to the BOH that the proposed design flows, at 900 gallons per day, will be lower than the 970 gallons per day approved in the 1990s. The “design flow” is the capacity mandated for a septic system according to the size of the buildings and usage of the property. In 1996, the design flow included: 220 gallons/day for the two-bedroom apartment above the store, 200 gal/day for the retail area, 300 gallons/day minimum for a gas station, and another 250 gallons/day for the two-bays in the gas station service area. Under the current expansion plan, more septic system flow capacity will be needed for the expanded retail area. However, the apartment usage is unchanged and the total design flow will be reduced because the gas station is no longer operating.

The existing septic system accommodates only 21.7% of the “design flow,” or 211 gallons per day, under a variance granted because of site constraints. According to BOH Agent Linda Fantasia, metered flow has consistently remained below that threshold. She said that the renovation is not expected to increase the system usage and the actual flow capacity will remain at roughly 211 gallons per day after the renovation.

Soil contamination and water quality

Between 1998 and 2000 three gasoline storage tanks, related pipes and roughly 1,800 cubic yards of contaminated soil were removed from the former gas station, when the gasoline additive Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether (MTBE) was detected in nearby wells. The Daisy family, who owns the property, purchased filtration systems for six private wells near the town center impacted by the MTBE. According to Fantasia, the town continues to pay for testing of these wells and the MTBE levels have dropped. For instance, one well that earlier measured 330 parts per billion MTBE, had readings of 39.4 in 2006 and 34 ppb this May. MTBE in another well was 83 ppb in 1998, dropping to 11.1 ppb in 2206 and 1.5 ppb this year. The highest values detected this year were in the 30s. There is no maximum standard set by the government, though the state Office of Research and Standards has issued a guideline of 70 ppb.

The well used for drinking water at Ferns has never shown MTBE contamination, according to Fantasia. Even so, Ferns uses bottled water for all coffee and food preparation.

Other monitoring wells placed closer to the gas station operations have shown contamination from MTBE and other substances including benzene, ethylbenzene, naphthalene and toluene. Fantasia explained that the other contaminants “seem to be confined to the gas station site.”

The expansion plan calls for leaving the old septic tank in place (crushed and filled with concrete) in order to minimize soil disturbance. The BOH has suggested that Bearfield hire an environmental specialist to consult DEP about what further precautions may be needed during construction to minimize soil disturbance.

Fantasia said the state is still monitoring the property under Massachusetts General Laws (MGL)Chapter 21E (oil and hazardous material release prevention and response act). Bearfield does not know whether the state will require project monitoring. “We’re still in discussion with the authorities,” he reported. However, he did not expect monitoring would add any significant delay, adding, “It’s not a show stopper.”

Hurdles for café

The state’s arcane plumbing code has been a point of confusion over whether or not adding a café without wait service would require adding a new bathroom. The cost of an additional bathroom would be unusually high, since that would add to requirements for the well water and septic system. Early in 2007 the Carlisle Building Department told Bearfield that a bathroom was not needed. However, in October, Plumbing and Gas Inspector Kenneth Rich wrote to Bearfield that, after reviewing the plans, he felt a bathroom would be required after all: “To be fair to the Town of Carlisle, its residents and the business owners, I did consult with the [Massachusetts] Board of Examiners for the final word on the interpretation of the state code,” he noted.

In a letter dated April 3, 2008, Carlisle’s new Plumbing and Gas Inspector, James Powderly, reiterated Rich’s conclusion. Powderly explained that the “public restroom was necessary due to the square footage of the operation and in accordance with the Plumbing Code.” Powderly calculated that the plan with the café would have encompassed: 690 square feet for the grocery shop, 793 sq. ft. for the beer and wine shop, and 1091 sq. ft. for the deli/café/lounge. This exceeds the 1,200 square feet threshold listed in the State Plumbing Code 248 CMR 10.10 18(b)2.c cited by Powderly:

“18. Minimum facilities for building occupancy other than residential – (b) Classification of places of assembly – 2. Assembly (dedicated) – c: “In restaurants, pubs and nightclubs where the total combined number of employees and patrons that can be accommodated at any one time is less than 20 individuals and the total gross space is less than 1,200 square feet, one unisex, handicapped accessible toilet facility for use by both employees and the patrons shall meet the minimum fixture requirements of 248 CMR (Code of Massachusetts Regulations).”

Both Rich and Powderly noted that if Bearfield wishes to pursue the café project further, he may apply for a variance, or appeal to the state Board of Examiners of Plumbers and Gas Fitters. Bearfield says, “At this point we have no plans to appeal.” His short-term goal is to get the basic project approved and open the beer and wine store, though long-term he added, “our goal is to provide indoor seating.”

Bearfield has completed preliminary meetings with the BOH and Historical Commission. Within the next few weeks he plans to file with the Zoning Board of Appeals for “a couple of variances.” One variance is for road setback, because the front of the addition is to be relatively close to Lowell Street, as is the existing store. Later, he plans to file a formal site plan review application with the Selectmen. “I want people to know that we’ve had complete cooperation from town boards. Everyone is helping us iron out the issues,” Bearfield said. He hopes to begin construction as soon as the permitting process is completed. Bearfield concluded, “Progress is being made – that’s the good news, but it’s a complex process and takes time.” ∆

Short Timeline of Ferns expansion planning

• 2003 – Daisy’s Property leased to Carlisle Center Ventures, LLC, managed by Larry Bearfield and Robin Emerson.

• June 22,2006 – DEP wrote to the BOH regarding the 1996 permit: “Based on its initial review, Mass DEP believes the proposed expansion of Ferns Country Store constitutes new construction as defined by 310 CMR 15.000, which would require full compliance with 310 CMR 15.000.”

• July 9, 2007 – In a letter to Larry Bearfield, DEP said that the proposed expansion will not cause the well to become a public water supply, “in part because it will not include a public bathroom.”

• October 18, 2007 – Kenneth Rich, Carlisle Plumbing and Gas Inspector wrote to Larry Bearfield: “I was able to review the final plans for Ferns Country Store submitted on September 27, 2007. Based on these plans it is now my determination that a public bathroom is required if you intend to move forward with the remodeling project.

• April 3, 2008 –The new Carlisle Plumbing and Gas Inspector James Powderly agreed with Rich.

• June 13, 2008 – Stamski & McNary, Inc. engineering firm noted in a letter to the BOH, that the café/lounge has been removed from the project and stated, “When the applicant wishes to pursue this matter, he will return to the board for further approval.” ∆

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