Friday, October 30, 2009
Benfield Farms 40B application filed with ZBA
Town Hall Advisory Group looks to minimize impact on open space
On Friday, October 23, developer Neighborhood of Affordable Housing (NOAH) filed for a comprehensive permit to build 26 units of affordable senior housing on the Benfield Land on South Street. The state’s 40B law allows a developer to bypass local zoning and instead apply for a comprehensive permit if at least 25% of units are affordable. This filing will launch a series of hearings before the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) and other boards with an interest in the project, including the Conservation Commission, (ConsCom), Board of Health (BOH) and Recreation Commission (RecCom). The ZBA has 180 days to consider the 40B comprehensive permit application.
Throughout the permitting process, the boards are addressed individually, and sometimes the desires of one can conflict with those of another. The Town Hall Advisory Group (THAG) was formed to provide a forum where issues could be resolved in concert by representatives of all the boards. On Wednesday, October 21, 13 members of the THAG met at Town Hall to review the most recent plan for septic and water.
The advisory group is led by BOH Chair Jeff Brem, who distributed the atest map showing where NOAH expects to site the septic system and wells for the development. After perc tests on the land in front of the planned building failed, the decision was made to place the septic system in back. Brem asked the representatives of the various boards to think about any issues related to the locations, including whether any planned future uses of the land might be precluded by proximity to wells/septic.
He noted that several restrictions were placed on land use when Town Meeting approved the purchase in 2004. Lot 1 is reserved for housing, Lots 2 or 3 can be used for an athletic field, with parking only on Lot 3, and Lot 4 is conservation land. The wording (Lot 2 or Lot 3) seems to imply an athletic field cannot straddle the two lots.
Brem said an earlier request for more fill to make the septic area blend in would be honored. Conservation Administrator Sylvia Willard noted that the septic field within the conservation restricted land should be returned to its current look as a mowed field. ConsCom’s Tom Brownrigg asked if the septic pipe could be submerged, and Brem said it could not; the best that could be done would be to hide it behind a tree.
Vernal pool protection
Brownrigg observed that the well and septic systems seemed close to a certified vernal pool. He questioned why the developer is subject to the 100 foot setback required for a single-family home, when this will be a multi-family dwelling that may contain forty people. “Is that an adequate setback distance? I’m not an expert.” Brem assured him the BOH will be enforcing the new town code that is over and above Title 5.
The BOH will issue the permit on the septic system, but because the well will be a public water supply, the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), not the BOH, is responsible for approval.
Well location may be moved
The location of the well is important because septic systems, agriculture and other activities are restricted within the Zone 1 radius of 189 feet. A second radius of 487 feet defines a Zone 2 which is much less restrictive and can include a septic system and agriculture, but requires an easement if it overlaps a neighbor’s land. In the plan presented, both well zones would be entirely on town land.
Brem said the state DEP ruling on the public water supply will designate a Zone 1 with restrictions on animal husbandry and gardening. If the well is sited as proposed, Zone 1 would be within the conservation restricted area. Greg Peterson of the Carlisle Conservation Foundation asked about moving the well so less conservation land would be within Zone 1. Responded Brem, “If Conservation wants the well moved, now is the time to say.”
Brownrigg calculated that the proposed well location would effectively remove 2.6 acres of conservation fields from agricultural use. He suggested moving the wells east to put the most restricted Zone 1 area in wetlands. Brem observed that wells can be placed close to wetlands and do not affect surface water. However, the wellhead itself should not be in wetlands. While not pointedly disallowed, this would require bringing a drill rig into the wetland, and “we don’t want to do that.”
Peterson endorsed moving the well 100 feet due east, to a spot five or ten feet from the wetlands. This would have several advantages, including opening more of the conservation land to potential agricultural use and widening the setback from the vernal pool. However, it might mean that Zone 2 would overlap onto abutting private land, requiring an easement.
Brem noted another advantage of moving the wellhead into the buffer zone is that it gives the town more authority, as the ConsCom regulates work in a wetland buffer zone. Because the well will be a public water supply, with over 25 people using it at least three months per year, the state DEP takes responsibility for permitting, not the town BOH. The state process would include a pump test and checking of all wells within ½ mile for possible impacts. The BOH would be informed of any decisions and testing results, but local regulations would not apply.
Willard was concerned that access would be more difficult in the location discussed. Brem said the rig needed to drill the well could come in on tractors. After that, any maintenance or testing would require no more than a pickup truck.
Septic system issues
Brownrigg was satisfied that moving the well would improve the safety of the vernal pool, but requested monitoring of the surface level and a restriction on pumping test water into it. He asked if the septic system could also be moved, and expressed particular concern about drugs and household cleaning products.
Peterson said that moving the septic system could endanger a decorative stone wall. He noted the town had doubled the 50-foot setback from wetlands required by the state, and was requiring 100 feet. “This is substantial separation,” he said, noting the need to be “sensitive to cost.”
Brem also questioned the need to move the septic, which would require added cost of one or more days to redo the test beds. The effluent from the septic will be treated to reduce nitrogen because of high volume in a nitrogen-sensitive zone. In addition, the manifold design would spread the liquid much more widely than is typical with the septic system in a single-family home. “This is better than a home system, and will get more scrutiny from us,” he concluded. BOH Agent Linda Fantasia suggested a regularly scheduled drug collection day to discourage flushing unused pills.
Other concerns were briefly discussed, including parking on Lot 1 to access trails and the design of the gate restricting car access. A bio-retention area for treating run-off will be near the parking and should be decorative, with native plantings. Two representatives of the RecCom present had just joined their board, and were not up-to-speed on plans for Lots 2 and 3. They agreed to confer with the other members of the RecCom and be prepared at the next meeting.
Brem noted the ZBA currently has only three members and is two members short. He asked everyone to consider who might be enticed to fill the remaining seats.
In a phone call Monday, Town Clerk Charlene Hinton said that the filing is on record and will be made available to the public in the Gleason Library, and possibly on the town web site. Hearings have not yet been scheduled. “This just dropped in my lap Friday afternoon,” she noted, adding, “The fun’s about to begin.” ∆
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