No Endorsement For Cove Beach Parcels

Alice McGrath’s application for a Form A (Approval Not Required) ruling from the Mattapoisett Planning Board for property located on Cove Street received a “no endorsement” vote at the July 7 meeting. This hearing was a continuation from the last planning board meeting when McGrath, along with her representative Bill Madden of GAF Engineering, first presented them with a request that had as many twists and turns as an old beach road.

During her first appearance before the board, McGrath presented a plan that asked the board for their agreement to divide a long narrow strip of beach into individual non-buildable parcels that she could ‘convey’ to the owners of the adjacent lots. This plan would relieve her from owning this strip of land, and in her view, make the most sense for the residents as well. However, after further discussion, it was discovered that what she actually wanted to do was sell the parcels to the residents and not convey the pieces.

This set in motion a series of questions about the intent of the original sub-division established by Welborn Hillier in the early 1900s. The board needed to discern whether or not agreeing to the request constituted a new sub-division and the long-term impact on neighbors in the Cove Street community.

The original hearing was continued to give McGrath additional time to review the earlier deeds and possibly return with ideas other than selling parcels. The board also wanted time to confer with town counsel to ensure the request was within the scope of their jurisdictional duties.

When McGrath and Madden returned for the second time, the plan had not changed, except where necessary to correct some parcel numbering.

The board members read town counsel’s opinion into the record. The opinion rendered stated that if the board thought the request constituted a sub-division, they could vote on the request using current sub-division rules; if that was not the case, counsel said they were not required to study old deeds and documents to render a decision. Legal opinion also stated that any existing rights and easements noted in deeds would not be negated by the selling of individual parcels.

Another twist in the request came when Sharon Thompson, one of the abutters to the beach strip in question, said that her family had owned their lot for 95 years and up until recently, they and many other abutters all believed the beach was already part of their lot. Further, they had been paying for beachfront property via taxes for many decades. When Thompson and others learned that the beach in front of their homes was not theirs, they petitioned and received an adjustment from the assessor’s office. Thompson also stated that she had been informed by the assessor that if she buys the land offered by McGrath, her tax base would go up by $100,000.

Several board members said that if the land was simply being conveyed to the abutters or given to the Cove Street beach community as a public space, they would have no problem with such a plan. But in deciding to sell the proposed parcels, anyone could buy them and thus set up possible problems for the abutters in the future. They felt that such chopping up of lands was bad for the town.

The board members debated in detail the pros and cons of McGrath’s plan and finally concluded that they weren’t comfortable with it. John Mathieu said, “I don’t feel good about signing it. I think it sets a bad precedent for the town.” Each member of the board articulated similar statements. In the end, they voted not to endorse the plan.

McGrath still has options. She can sue the board and/or pursue ‘constructive approval’ as allowed by Massachusetts law if division of the beach strip for profit remains her objective.

The other agenda item discussed was the ongoing issues at Appaloosa Lane off River Road. The board met with GAF Engineering’s Bill Madden and Brian Grady to receive an update on the drainage project. Although GAF is still reviewing the overall design of the drainage system, Madden was able to see first hand the water problems with the arrival of Hurricane Arthur. The torrent of rain also allowed neighbors to document the water flow problems they are experiencing on their property. With a combination of on-site inspection and photographic documentation, Madden said that the walls of the swale and drainage system don’t seem to have been built to plan specifications.

Chairman Tom Tucker insisted that GAF give the board a time frame for completion of repairs, but Madden said that would be difficult given that the soils in the area as previously certified were incorrect. In 2002, the soils were classified as hydrological soils group A; however, the more recent state certification is hydrological soils group C, which are less able to handle absorption.

Ron Merlo said, “…we are going to rely on GAF to make this plan work and a timeframe … a GAF person needs to be on-site to oversee the work.” The board requested GAF return on July 21 with a timeframe for completion of work and updates on the overall drainage problems and repairs.

The next meeting of the Mattapoisett Planning Board is July 21 at 7:00 pm in the town hall conference room.

By Marilou Newell


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