Abutters Oppose Waivers for Beach Street Subdivision

            On May 6 David Davignon of N. Douglas Schneider & Associates stood before the Marion Planning Board in a continued hearing on the merits of a three-lot subdivision proposed for a 3.6-acre lot wedged between Converse Road, Zora Road, and Beach Street.

            Davignon was asked by Chairman Bill Saltonstall to give a shorthand version of the project in question for the benefit of the abutters in attendance.

            Regarding the issue of sewer connections to the property, Davignon said the existing home, which is part of the subdivision located at 213 Converse Road, was connected to the system and that two additional connections were already approved for the other lots.

            But it was the matter of stormwater management, groundwater disruption, and what abutters perceived to be a plan for the construction of an unsightly retaining wall around a retention pond that found Davignon fielding questions for the next two hours.

            During a recent meeting with the Conservation Commission, Davignon said that a number of abutters had questioned the drainage plan and that the commission had asked for clarification on drainage calculations, the manner in which the wetlands had been flagged, and had asked for proof that sewer connections had, in fact, been approved. He said he would be returning to ConCom on May 9 to continue that hearing.

            In detailing the proposed development, Davignon said the owner, identified as 22 Cove Street, LLC, purchased a lot on Beach Street to provide frontage and access to two lots behind 213 Converse Road. He said the Fire Department had no concerns over the plan to construct a 20-foot roadway with a cul-de-sac at the end, and that the plan called for underground utilities.

            Davignon further described the acreage as “mostly uplands.” Although he was aware of a letter submitted by the Town’s peer review consultant JC Engineering, his office had not had an opportunity to review the comments.

            Comments from the Planning Board members followed, with Chris Collings giving voice to his concerns first.

            “I’m not comfortable with the retention pond so near abutters properties,” Collings said. “I hope there is a better way.” He questioned why an underground stormwater management system hadn’t been offered and asked why the retention pond couldn’t be situated in the middle of the planned cul-de-sac instead of a mere 60 feet from an easterly abutter.

            Planning Board member Steve Kokkins wanted to know about the quantity of fill the plan calls for, saying, “Our chief responsibility is to protect the abutters.” He said he shared Collings concerns.

            Davignon said an underground system had been explored, but it would require even more fill than the current plan.

            Brian Wallace of JC Engineering was asked to comment on the water management plan. He said, overall, the plan was not uncommon, was using “best practices”, and that while some calculations were in question, he didn’t think the impact of any increased groundwater flow would be a significant issue.

            Saltonstall pondered if the 4 to 5-foot retaining wall around the retention pond would impede water flow saying, “You are creating a hill that slopes into the neighbor’s backyards.”

            Planning Board member Norm Hills offered his insight, saying, “The water currently flows in that direction. … All this does is slow water down for 24 hours.”

            Davignon said that plans had to demonstrate that water flow post-construction would not be any worse than water flow pre-construction, and that is the case with this project.

            Kokkins conceded that the Planning Board was not reviewing a building plan, but a subdivision plan, but that it was “important to keep these issues in the mix.”

            Board member Eileen Marum asked whether or not water would go into neighboring basements and also asked who would be responsible for maintaining drainage structures.

            Davignon said a homeowners’ association plan would ultimately be tied to the deed, and the Conservation Commission, as part of the proposal, would police drainage. Marum was skeptical and encouraged the abutters to “stay on top” of this.

            Abutters questioned why the applicant would be granted waivers to existing subdivision rules and why waivers were even a possibility. One also questioned whether the Town once deemed one of the lots unbuildable.

            Gary Holmes, 31 Beach Street, said the waivers weren’t minor and that flooding in that area during storm events was common.

            “I’m begging you, if at all possible, do more,” said Holmes. “I beg you to walk the area – please, stand in my backyard and envision it!”

            Another abutter, Bill Wareham, said during the 60 years he’s owned his home, he has had sump pumps running, but Davignon said of his property that the plans would improve the overland flow.

            Abutter John Elliot returned to the issue of a homeowners’ association, asking, “Where are the teeth” that would make such an agreement meaningful?

            Davignon explained the process as one that included deed implications, and that a simple call to the Conservation Commission might impose sanctions on an association that was not maintaining stormwater structures as mandated by the agreement.

            “There is no escaping legal obligations,” Davignon said.

            But Elliot wanted to understand how waivers could be part of the process for granting the applicant’s proposal.

            “If the waiver is to accommodate something because there isn’t enough room, why is it a buildable lot?” said Elliot. He also said that when he purchased his property a Town employee told him that the vacant lots nearby would never be built on.

            “All you had to do was read the bylaws,” said Hills, to understand that was not the case.

            Davignon said of the difference between bylaws and state mandated subdivision rules and regulations: “Subdivision rules and regulations are not bylaws. … They were developed by the state to allow the division of land and to develop roads. … It gives the towns the latitude to grant waivers and they are granted regularly.”

            In his letter to the Planning Board, Davignon listed waivers that included, but were not limited to, a retention pond 62 feet versus the required 100 feet from abutting property, a planting plan instead of hiring a landscape architect, and a gravel access drive around the perimeter of basins 12 feet wide in one location versus the entire perimeter.

            The hearing was continued until May 20.

            The next meeting of the Marion Planning Board is scheduled for May 20 at 7:00 pm at the Marion Town House.

Marion Planning Board

By Marilou Newell

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