Has King St. Warehouse Hit a Brick Wall?

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The Conservation Committee met both virtually and in person Thursday night at 7 pm, with Vice Chair Jeff Milne running the show in the absence of Chair, William Batchelor.

The proposed warehouse at 585 King Street was back before the Commission with an environmental engineer explaining the project. He noted that the project had been before the Commission two weeks earlier and in the interim he and his team had been responding to a letter from the town’s consulting wetland scientist, Lenore White.

He said he and the developer, Marcus Partners, were working to address her concerns and had submitted a new package of information on the prior Friday (May 6). That was not a sufficient period of time to allow for ConComm review, meaning no approval could likely be made at the current meeting. However, he offered to explain what had been submitted so the Commission would be “up to speed.”

The Commission accepted the offer and he proceeded to walk through specific aspects of the project including the tricky wetland crossing – involving enlargement of an existing narrow roadway and, therefore,  a requirement for replication of wetland elsewhere.

He also noted that bylaws require the applicant to perform an Alternatives Analyses to outline other possible ways to access the site and, in addition, to assess whether any other nearby site could better accommodate the project with less impact on a wetland.

“You'll recall that we've identified this property as being suitable for this type of development, primarily because of its size, and because of its close proximity to route 495 for truck traffic,” he explained. He went on to describe the relatively small number of suitable properties, all of which were further down King or Washington, and all of which would require additional land purchases and would contribute to greater neighborhood road traffic. Most would also require rezoning. And, most would require even more of a wetland impact.

He also described alternative entry points that would require land taking across homes and other private property in order to reach Washington Street – and an extremely long access road.[These options are likely not being pursued seriously but were a requirement of the town.]

And, he promised to look for more alternatives, as White had requested.

However, White at that point rejoined the discussion: “The regulations require that you look at the owner’s property and the owner’s ability to find alternatives, not the applicant. So, the owners are not Marcus Partner, the owner or the trustee is Margaret Ranieri, who has multiple properties in the area. So, I wanted the Alternatives Analysis to properly reflect the fact that it's the owner’s lands that are available and are to be looked at as alternatives. And, you know, just a quick review of the Notice of Intent, you'll see that many of the adjacent properties are owned by the same owner, and there's also property on Grove Street that's owned by Ranieri. So those alternatives have not been considered. I've asked him to go back and do the Alternatives Analysis in accordance with the regulations.”

The engineer agreed to further address those concerns per  her advice and “the second item that was on the list, the wetland replication area.”

Again, White added comments: "I wanted to point out that some of the concerns I have is that there are some replication areas located beneath the power lines. And the power lines go in and wipe out most of the vegetation when they do their maintenance. So, we can’t have replication areas that are located within the shadow of the power lines. And then I noticed that there's a discharge structure that's right in the middle of one of these wetland replication areas from the basin that south of the driveway there. So, and I'm concerned too, about whether or not there's enough water to support these. I mean, the wetland application here is what, 23,000 square feet? And I'm concerned that we [are not] going to have enough water to support that wetland replication. So yes, I've asked for some additional information about that replication areas.”

The engineer elaborated on the plans and the remediation thinking, noting when you go back with the historic aerial photos, the [groundwater] system " seems like it's sort of terminated historically, in the footprint of route 495. There was a farm, multiple farms in that area. And so as 495 was constructed, you get extensive impervious surfaces, which presumably discharge into this stream system. So, I believe the stream system is probably flashy is the term I use mean water during significant precipitation events, floods the system quickly and then flows through the intermittent stream channel, through the system and off site. It is it is also supported by a shallow groundwater table. So, I did not mean to imply that it is only supported by stormwater runoff. There is a groundwater table that supports hydrology in this wetland. And that's something that I'll document in better detail in response to this comment.”

The engineer also reviewed his understanding of White’s expectation regarding plans for stream crossing and wetlands remediation.

White responded, explaining, “we traded some emails today and I set out some of this additional information that I would be looking for. I also mentioned I would be looking for a construction sequence to explain how the replication area is going to be built and how the stream crossing is going to proceed. And we just did one in town where there's a stream crossing proposed and there was a lot of missing information at the end of the day, we said you know the engineers were looking at us saying how do we do this and we said that’s for you to figure out how you to get this done.”

Then White took the discussion in a different direction, noting that she expected a traffic engineer to show alternatives if the driveway were moved elsewhere.

Commissioner Patrick Gallagher also asked whether other options, such as reorienting the building or scaling it back could be considered.

But it was the wetlands crossing issue that brought the meeting to a head.

The Marcus Partners engineer said he wanted to make sure he understood the comment and the concern. “As I understand it the bylaw regulations mandate is preserving a 25-foot no disturb buffer zone. That’s the regulation we're talking about. And the bylaw includes an opportunity for applicants to request a variance from that performance standard or any performance standards that they cannot comply with and also regulations for wetland replication. The bylaw requires that we replicate [Wetlands] at a two to one ratio. So, in a situation where it's a limited access project, and there's no other means of accessing the upland, which is our position on this, preserving the 25-foot buffer zone is impossible. And I think your regulations contemplate this, this possible scenario, because they recognize that wetland replication is sometimes necessary. That's why there are performance standards there for replication. Anytime there's replication required, that means a wetland is being filled. And if a wetland is being filled, the 25-foot buffer is not going to be preserved. And that's the situation we have here on both sides of the wetland crossing. The 25-foot buffer zone is going to be disturbed just for access to the wetland crossing. And the same goes for the wetland replication areas. You know, we have three or four wetland replication areas that are all within the 25-foot buffer zone. But wetland replication areas have to connect to a wetland. So, they have to be in the 25-foot buffer zone. And that's really the sort of the substance of our request for variance, we're saying that the 25-foot buffer zone work that's proposed is unavoidable in this circumstance.”

After further discussing the constraints and tradeoff, White said, she understands those constraints but didn’t see it as being up to the Commission. “I don't think it's fair to put the Commission in a position that says well, you can either have one or the other. You can either have two to one or you can have the 25-foot buffer zone. Yeah, the regulations require both, it’s not an either or.”

“All I'm saying is that we're requesting a variance from that, because we can't preserve the 25-foot buffer zone all around the construction footprint and because we're complying with other performance standards,” the engineer responded.

“That's an issue for you to discuss, with the applicant, because that's exactly why we're looking at additional alternative locations, because it sounds like you're saying, you know, we, this project can't meet the standards,” said White. “And if it can't meet the standards, then I don't know how the Commission could approve it. I understand the site constraints, but it's not the Commission's problem and it's not something that they should be waiving the standards for, I think,” White added.

The discussion continued a bit longer and a near neighbor, Karen Miller, also asked questions of the applicant and the commissioner. The matter was continued to the next meeting

The Commission also discussed a project on 839 Upper Union, a Notice of Intent. Commissioner Andrew Mazzuchelli recused himself. Here, the ducks were almost lined up, but not quite – with some questions raised regarding whether the Planning Board was waiting for the ConComm or vice versa. Although the ambiguity was slight, the Commission opted for Caution and continued the matter to its next meeting, after Planning Meets.

The final hearing of the evening was for an ANRAD for Franklin Heights Parcel B.

A lengthy discussion was conducted with a wetlands scientist representing the applicant, the presence or absence and exact nature of vernal pools on the site being the primary question. Ultimately, the Commission was satisfied, closed the hearing, and voted to approve the ANRAD.

The commission then handled general business matters before adjourning.

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