During the board’s public comment period Chris Ford delivered a letter to selectmen in which he said his brother and sister-in-law, Ted and Khemphet Ford, who own property located at 559 Jerusalem Road, wished to initiate an effort to enter into a settlement with the town. Ford said the conservation commission had asked the couple to produce shadow studies and native habitat studies, at great personal cost, neither study that had ever been required in the history of the town.
Ford noted that the Department of Environmental Protection had twice state that the Ford’s single home plan “involves decreased or unchanged potential impact to wetlands.”
Selectmen said they would summon the conservation commission to hear its side of the issue and run the proposed settlement by town counsel. Selectman Karen Quigley asked for a written opinion from town counsel. “I would like to know what our position is legally, going forward.”
Selectman Steve Gaumer said he would like to have a briefing from the conservation commission. Quigley noted that the DEP is the approving authority for the conservation commission, adding that she thought the selectmen had a certain duty to Cohasset taxpayers to look into some kind of settlement on the issue.”
The Ford’s letter read as follows:
“We are now asking you, the Board of Selectmen, in accordance with your oversight authority, to authorize town counsel to do the same on your behalf. The issue before us is the pending Superior Court case of us (Khemphet and Ted Ford) against the Cohasset Conservation Commission over their decision to deny an Order of Conditions and Stormwater Permit for our proposed construction of a single family home at 559 Jerusalem Road.
“It is our position that it would be in the best interests of all parties concerned that an effort should be made to seek a settlement in this case prior to the commencement of scheduled court proceedings. We, the Ford family, have already invested a great deal of time, resources and money into this effort and the same can be said of the Town of Cohasset and its taxpayers. We feel that it would be reasonable at this juncture to explore alternative solutions. We feel that this is especially true in that we have now received a second ruling (attachment A.) from the DEP issuing a Superseding Order of Conditions based on their opinion that the proposed project “involves decreased or unchanged potential impact to wetlands…”
In your review of our request please consider the following:
- Our project consists of the construction of a single family dwelling at 559 Jerusalem Road. The property is approximately 30,000 s.f. and has been owned by our family since 1994. The site formerly was home to a major portion of the “Black Rock House,” hotel that was demolished circa 1969 as well as a separate single family residence. Remains of the foundations and the seventeen space parking lot exist at the site today.
- In December 2011 our engineer submitted a Notice of Intent and Stormwater Permit Application to the Conservation Commission for construction of the new dwelling. We were told that this was a routine process and that the Conservation Commission typically approves projects such as ours. The hearing process was long and filled with much discussion. Throughout the hearing process our engineer asked if there was any additional information needed from us. We made revisions to our plans to try and address concerns of the neighbors and Commission. On May 17, 2012 final deliberations took place. Three of the voting members present had been absent for one or more of the hearings. Three of the members voted yes for one or the other of the two motions which would have resulted in an Order of Conditions, Three voted no on both of the motions involving the Order of Conditions and the vote was 4 to 2 against granting a stormwater permit. We appealed these decisions to the DEP and filed with the Superior Court regarding the local by-law provision and the Stormwater Permit.
Below are some of the specifics of the project as proposed and the proceedings to date:
- The house was to be constructed 61 ft. from the wetlands.
- The limit of work/limit of site disturbance was 51 ft. from the wetlands. The Town Bylaw requires a minimum distance of 50-ft.
- The project is not located within an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC). The proposed project does not front on Strait’s Pond. The project is separated from Strait’s Pond by a 50 ft. +/- strip of land owned by an abutter, which is maintained as lawn.
- The project proposed stormwater mitigation consisting of rain gardens, infiltration drywells and swales to mitigate stormwater runoff from the site. Stormwater Agent Paul Shea indicated multiple times in the meeting minutes that the stormwater calculations provided by our engineer were complete and satisfactory for issuance of a permit.
- The project resulted in a net reduction of impervious ground cover of the site.
- The project didn’t propose any work closer to the wetlands than previously existed.
- The Cohasset Zoning Enforcement Officer (Robert Egan) issued two separate letters stating that this lot was eligible for relief under the single lot exemption part of the Town by-law.
- It is our belief that the final deliberation meeting of May 17, 2012 that resulted in a vote deny our project was seriously flawed. As indicated above, three of the voting members present had missed one or more of the hearings. Also, after the Chairman (correctly) opened the meeting by reminding all present that the “Hearing” process of the meeting had closed and that no new information could be presented and no discussion on the part of the audience would be permitted one of the Commissioner’s (one who had missed the previous hearing and one other) stated that he had observed landscape and construction trucks on our property that week with work being performed there. Unable to speak, as the “public comment period” had closed, we in the audience were unable to inform the Board that the work being performed for and the trucks involved were associated with landscapers working on abutter Peter DeCaprio’s property (we know this because we spoke with the same landscapers while they were there and asked them what they were doing). The same Commissioner commented to the effect that “it appears that the Ford’s did not even wait for an approval from us before beginning their work”. We believe that this dialog poisoned for us the final deliberation process and contributed to the resulting negative vote
- We filed an appeal of the denial with the DEP. The DEP held a site visit with the board in June of 2012.
- In August 12, 2012 the DEP stated that they would put a hold on their review to allow the parties to re-open the hearing process for the purpose of issuing an amended Order of Conditions for approval.
- In preparation for the re-opening of the hearings, we filed a revised plan with the Conservation Commission to further reduce impacts to the wetlands buffer zone and provided additional data that the Conservation Commission felt necessary in their review of the project. Specifically, Chairman Creighton thought a shadow impact study would be necessary to review shadow effects from the project onto the buffer zone. We provided the first ever shadow study in the Town of Cohasset just as we had provided the first ever native habitat study required of a single family house in the earlier hearing process.
- The Conservation Commission denied our revised plan at their November 1. 2012 meeting.
- On Dec 12, 2012 we received the Superseding Order of Conditions approval from the DEP.
- In mid-December we filed to DEP for an Amended Superseding Order of Conditions for our revised plan. DEP issued their second approval, an Amended Superseding Order of Conditions this past April 13th. We also filed an update with Superior Court regarding our pending appeal of the local bylaw.
This brings us to today. The DEP has ruled twice in support of this project. No wetlands are being altered by our project with respect to the 50-ft. “No-Disturb” setback established by the Cohasset Wetlands Bylaw. Our file record shows data from our wetlands botanist and engineer that the existing site is significantly deteriorated, in poor condition, has primarily invasive species such as knotweed and sumac, provides minimal to no wildlife habitat value and that the proposed work will significantly improve the environment aspects of the site by reducing the impervious surface (the existing asphalt) improving stormwater drainage, and the planting of native species through the landscape. This data was never disputed by either a professional or the Town of Cohasset Conservation Agent.
With this data we ask the Selectmen to act. We are now at a juncture where we feel it would be appropriate for the Selectmen to instruct Town Counsel and our attorney to meet for the purpose of exploring a settlement. We realize that there will most certainly be other battles ahead as an abutter has made clear that they will do everything within their power to stop this project. However, that battle should be between us and our abutter, not between our family and the Town of Cohasset taxpayers.
© Copyright 2013 Tanna K, All rights Reserved. Written For: Tinytown Unleashed