Conservation Commission - Oct 1st, 2020

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Meeting conducted via video-conference. These notes cover a subset of agenda items.

Request for Determination: 1165R Mass Ave. 1165R Mass Ave is the location of a proposed 40B comprehensive permit project. This is a continued Request for Determination. The question seems to be whether "Ryder Brook" is an actual stream (and under the jurisdiction of the Conservation Commission) or just a drainage ditch (and not under the Conservation Commission's jurisdiction).

(Mary Winstanley O'Connor, Counsel for the Petitioner) Ms. Winstanley O'Connor states that current USGS maps shows no wetlands or streams in the location of said brook, and that the conservation commission is obliged to base it's determination on the current maps. Three members of the board did site inspections of Ryder Brook, and found no water. Ms. Winstanley O'Connor says it's a drainage ditch that flows intermittently. According to case law, if a stream runs dry one or more days during the year, then it's not a stream.

(Nathaniel Stevens) Mr. Stevens describes the research he's done into this matter. He concurs with the applicant, in that Ryder Brook is not a stream.

(Pam Heidell) Ms. Heidell motions that the board determines that Ryder Brook is drainage ditch, and doesn't satisfy the statutory definition of a stream.

Motion carries.

(David Kaplan) Mr. Kaplan suggests that the board document this decision, so the determination and its rationale are available for future reference.

Thorndike Place Working Session. Thorndike Place is another proposed 40B comprehensive permit project. This is an informative discussion between the Conservation Commission, BSC (civil engineering firm for the Thorndike Place petitioners) and BETA group (Arlington's peer-review consultants).

(Susan Chapnick, Conservation Commission Chair) Ms. Chapnick provides a set of opening remarks. The conservation commission has received a new site plan from the petitioner, dated September 2020. The conservation commission normally administers laws and regulations associated with the state wetlands protection act, as well as town bylaws. The conservation commission also has a duty to protect natural resources within the town of Arlington.

Under 40B, the ZBA is the sole enforcer of the town's bylaws and regulations, but the conservation commission will administer the state wetlands laws and regulations. The conservation commission will also advise the ZBA, including where grants and waivers are concerned. BETA group is a peer review firm that Arlington has hired. This working session is not a hearing. Rather, it's a discussion that will assist the conservation commission in formulating comments for the ZBA.

(John Hession, BSC) Mr. Hession presents the updated site plan for Thorndike place. He hopes the conservation commission agrees that the new plan reduces impacts to wetlands and resource areas. Mr. Hession shows the earlier plan, dated 3/2020.

This project was presented to the ZBA in 2016 and appealed to the Housing Appeals Committee. It took three years for the HAC to reach a decision, and remand the case to the ZBA. BSC was brought on board at around that time. Their initial charge was to update the site surveys, and provide accurate delineations of the wetlands and floodplain. BSC performed a new delineation in January 2020. The 2020 delineation was very close to one that was done in 2009. Where the two delineations differ, BSC is using the more conservative delineation for planning purposes.

The March 2020 plans were essentially the same as those submitted in 2016, with only minor modifications.

Half of BETA's review comments focused on on wetlands and wetland resources. The applicants have gone back to the drawing board with the intention of minimizing impacts under state and local bylaws. The March 2020 plan had 96,000 square foot footprint in the 100 year floodplain; the new plan reduces this to approximately 17,000 square feet. The new plan has a smaller footprint. We've taken out the townhouses and moved the main building closer to Dorothy street. We've also removed the network of paths through the wetlands, due to concerns raised by BETA and the Conservation Commission.

Nearly all of the surface parking has been removed; the pavement that's left is for access drives and some visitor parking.

There will be some work in the 100-year floodplain, but that work will occur in the upper areas of the floodplain elevation. The applicants are interested in providing compensatory flood storage. Very little work will take place in wetland buffer areas.

(Susan Chapnick) Ms. Chapnick appreciates the changes to minimize impact to the resource area. She points out that the Conservation Commission has not approved the site delineation.

(Nathaniel Stevens, Conservation Commission) Mr. Stevens asks if BETA has checked BSC's delineation.

(Marta Nover, BETA) Ms. Nover says they haven't.

(Mike Gildesgame, Conservation Commission) Mr. Gildesgame asks if the parking will be at the surface level, or underground.

(John Hession) Mr. Hession says that parking will be a partial story below grade. About 5' below, and 3' above.

(Mike Gildesgame) Mr. Gildesgame asks if the parking will cause problems with the wetlands and flooding. He also asks about access to Route 2.

(John Hession) Mr. Hession said that Route 2 access was considered earlier in the project. That's since been eliminated.

(Pam Heidell) Ms. Heidell asks if BSC can provide calculations for the number of cubic feet removed from the floodplain, and calculations showing the compensatory storage. She asks if the petitioners will be able to provide 2:1 compensatory storage, and if they've done stormwater calculations.

(John Hession) Mr. Hession says he's aware that BSC will need to provide these calculations. The 9/2020 site plan is still a conceptual plan; they're looking for feedback, and haven't done the engineering calculations yet. BSC expects to produce full engineering plans in November.

(Pam Heidell) Ms. Heidell asks if the site plan can be further adjusted to reduce impact.

(John Hession) Mr. Hession believes that they will be able to provide 2:1 compensatory storage. However, that is likely to involve doing work in some of the adjacent upland resource areas (AURAs), along with the removal of some number of trees. There would be land disturbance.

(David Kaplan, Conservation Commission) Mr. Kaplan feels that the Conservation Commission would have to inspect the area, and see what kind of trees/vegetation there are. It makes a difference whether the trees are invasive species like Norway Maples. This could be an opportunity to restore a native floodplain.

(Todd Undzis, BETA) Mr. Undzis asks if BSC is planning to use rooftop detention.

(John Hession) Mr. Hession says they are planning to use rooftop detention.

(Todd Undzis) Mr. Undzis asks if that will be sufficient to satisfy stormwater best management practices.

(John Hession) Mr. Hession says they may need some additional stormwater management features, to compensate for surface parking.

(Marta Nover) Ms. Nover has a comment related to using the AURA for compensatory storage. She suggests that the applicant look at the kind of vegetation that's currently in the AURA.

(Chuck Tirone, Conservation Commission) Mr. Tirone has a question about parking. He asks Mr. Hession for his thoughts regarding the number of surface/visitor parking spaces.

(John Hession) Mr. Hession says the ZBA has yet to finalize the number of spaces required.

(Chuck Tirone) Mr. Tirone asks about the number of parking spaces.

(John Hession) Mr. Hession says they've reduced the size of the project by 20--30 spaces. They're looking at 1.4 spaces/unit.

(Chuck Tirone) Mr. Tirone asks about the height of the building.

(John Hession) Mr. Hession says it will be three stories near Dorothy Road, stepping up to four stories further back. The building will be constructed with modular units, and a story will be 11'.

(Chuck Tirone) Mr. Tirone asks if the remainder of the land will be gifted to the town.

(John Hession) Mr. Hession says he hasn't discussed that with the petitioners.

(Chuck Tirone) Mr. Tirone asks if there will be a second phase to this project.

(John Hession) Mr. Hession says he has no knowledge of a phase II. He understands what Mr. Tirone is getting at, and says this could be accomplished in a number of ways: gifting to the town, a conservation restriction, and so on.

(Chuck Tirone) Mr. Tirone asks about the access road around the perimeter of the building. He'd like to know if that's required by the fire department, and how it would be landscaped.

(John Hession) Mr. Hession says this needs to be finalized with the fire department. If the fire department doesn't require 360 degree access to the building, then the access road can be omitted. If the fire department needs 360-degree access, then we'll need the access road. The access road would be built with a permeable material.

(Susan Chapnick) Ms. Chapnick summarizes a set of next steps. These include:

  • Looking at the value and function of AURAs on the site, to understand the tradeoff between providing additional compensatory flood storage and leaving the AURAs undisturbed.
  • BETA confirming the wetlands delineation.
  • Assessing the impact of below-grade parking on flooding.
  • BSC providing stormwater and storage calculations
  • The conservation commission writing additional comments to the ZBA

Ms. Chapnick open the meeting to public comment.

(Brian Rehrig) Mr. Rehrig says this discussion is predicated around whether the wetland delineations are correct. He claims the site has been abused for half a century, including dumping. He says that filled wetlands don't cease to be wetlands, and hopes for a more thorough investigation.

(Karen Grossman) Ms. Grossman asks if the parking area will have a pervious surface.

(Bob DiBlase) Mr. DiBlase is concerned about the number of square feet in the foundation. He feels that the applicant will need to excavate 8--10' feet, even though the parking is only five feet below the surface. He's curious how water will dissipate.

Public comment ends.

(Nathaniel Stevens) Mr. Stevens points out that some of the area underneath the building could be used for compensatory flood storage, if the ZBA is willing to allow less parking.

(Chuck Tirone) Mr. Tirone thinks it would be good to understand how much parking is needed, and where the compensatory flood storage will go. He hopes the wetland delineation can be checked as soon as possible.

(Stephanie Kiefer, Counsel for the Petitioner) Ms. Kiefer hopes the conservation commission realizes there's more work to do, and that the site plan can be further tuned. She points out that the ZBA may have competing interests, with regard to the number of parking spaces provided.

(Christian Klein, ZBA Chair) Mr. Klein thanks the BSC, BETA, and the Conservation Commission for holding this session. He states that Oct 13th is the next ZBA hearing on Thorndike Place, and provides the ZBA email address for those wishing to provide written comments.

(Susan Chapnick) Ms. Chapnick nominates Mr. Stevens and herself to draft the next comment letter to the ZBA.