Friday, August 1, 2008
ConsCom hears neighborly tips on wetland protection
The Conservation Commission (ConsCom) opened its July 10 meeting by welcoming invited guest Tom Gumbart, who has served as Conservation Director in the town of Lincoln for the past eight years. The impetus for the invitation was that town’s successful overhaul of its Wetland Protection Bylaw.
Gumbart said their commission’s move to strengthen local legislation had come as a result of what they saw as a threat to the town’s natural resources. As in Carlisle, the growing scarcity of desirable building sites was causing increased pressure to permit activities with adverse impact on wetland resource areas. Because Carlisle’s ConsCom has also faced a number of such borderline applications, they sought Gumbart’s advice as to which challenges had been given top priority and how Lincoln’s successful campaign had been mounted.
The philosophy behind Lincoln’s 2003 and 2007 revisions is contained in the one-sentence statement that introduces the new bylaw, i.e. “The purpose of this bylaw is to maintain the quality of surface water, the quality and level of the ground water table and water charge areas for existing or potential supplies, to protect the community against the costs that may be incurred when development occurs in or adjacent to wetland resource areas, and to provide for the reasonable protection and conservation of certain irreplaceable natural features and resources and amenities…”
There are a number of items that stand out in a quick and admittedly non-professional comparison of the Lincoln bylaw with the provisions of the Massachusetts Wetland Protection Act and also with its almost verbatim repetition in the Carlisle Wetland Protection Bylaw. One example is the expansion of the resource areas protected by the familiar 100-foot buffer zone that surrounds a wetland (also known as the Upland Buffer Zone Resource Area), specifically by adding vernal pools, intermittent streams and isolated wetlands to the list of protected wetland features.
A second example is a requirement that when, or if, work is approved within the Upper Buffer Zone Resource Area, the commission may require the applicant to maintain a naturally vegetated, no-build buffer strip with a minimum width of 50 feet within that zone. To that is added a requirement that, should the total amount of impervious or semi-pervious surface within said buffer zone exceed 400 square feet, or if it is closer than 70 feet from the wetland itself, the applicant will be required to provide “clear and convincing evidence that the project will not have significant adverse impact on the adjoining wetland.” Another prominent impression is an overall emphasis on wildlife habitat support, including the need for food, water, breeding space, movement and connection with other habitat spaces.
Since Carlisle commission members were seeing Gumbart’s documents for the first time, they did not comment on these or any other specific items. However, they did listen with interest to the visitor’s remarks on the legal advantages gained from the changes. Gumbart feels that a bylaw needs to be both stringent and specific and that all rules and regulations promulgated by a commission must be carefully synchronized with it. He observed that since the first revision in 2003, the Lincoln board has experienced a significant drop in court challenges and has lost only one case.
Following Gumbart’s account of the Lincoln commission’s relatively smooth experience at their Town Meeting, former Carlisle commissioner Tom Brownrigg asked Gumbart whether he had factual, scientific research supporting the importance and efficacy of their setback requirements. The answer was, “Yes, we do,” together with a promise to provide it. ∆
© 2008 The