Elms zone is stuck in the mud

An architect's rendering of main Elms building after it's renovated and modified for multifamily use.

An architect’s rendering of main Elms building after it’s renovated and modified for multifamily use.

The proposed floating zone at the Elms Inn property is stuck in the mud — literally.

A potential wetland on the eastern portion of the property raised concerns among Planning and Zoning Commission members and wetland experts at a public hearing Tuesday night, prompting a continuation of the hearing to next Tuesday, July 16 — or possibly to Sept. 9 if the application’s consultants can’t complete the necessary research work in time.

“We’re hoping to accommodate the applicant who’s been working patiently with us since March,” said Chairwoman Rebecca Mucchetti.

The plan for a 16-unit housing complex on three acres proposes a new Main Street Design District (MSDD) — or “floating zone.”

The Scala family, who has owned the Elms property for some 60 years, wants a zone change that would convert the property from one-acre residential (RA) to the proposed MSDD zone.

The new zone would be a regulation that exists on the town’s books but isn’t attached to any specific spot on the zoning map.

“Fundamentally it’s a good regulation, but the standards are too narrow and I would suggest the commission give itself more flexibility — more discretion — on broader issues such as density,” said consultant Vincent McDermott of Milone & MacBroom Inc. “The concept gives you legislative authority to decide what properties can attach the floating zone and which ones can’t.”

While the floating zone concept was discussed for about 45 minutes Tuesday, the main dispute of the hearing was over the property’s wetland.

“It’s not a potential wetland, it is a wetland,” said Matt Sanford, a professional wetlands scientist, who is a consultant for the commission.

“The hydrology, the vegetation and the soils all verify this as a wetland.”

The applicant’s wetland scientist, William Kenny, spoke before Mr. Sanford and claimed the area “could be a wetland,” but couldn’t confirm it because of its location — a downhill slope on the lower side of the town’s already established wetland system.

“The current system discharges into this lower area,” said Mr. Kenny, pointing at the potential wetland on the map of Elms property.

Mr. Kenny proposed a new pipeline that would discharge at a similar location to the existing pipe that would be “pulled back significantly” to enhance the wetland system on the property, which would control water discharge along with drainage flow.

Mr. Sanford said that they would need to verify if the area is in fact a wetland before approving any proposals.

The two experts agreed to meet on site sometime this week and seemed confident they could resolve the dispute.

“The wetlands issue can be settled amicably,” said Robert Jewell, the applicant’s attorney. “We will nail it down before the next hearing.”

Casagmo association president Michael Zap, one of three speakers at the hearing, discussed a flood that caused the property’s retention pond to overflow on July 1. “It was only a half inch of rain and there was an overflow that flooded the complex,” he said. “It doesn’t take much rain to affect our neighborhood.

“We don’t want any more water in, we’re having enough problems with what we’re getting already.”

Although the issue of storm runoff and peak flow had been addressed at hearings March 12 and April 23, the revised application submitted on June 11 called for the applicants to address those concerns again Tuesday.

Steve Sullivan, the engineer on the project, said the plans had been revised to use a technique called “permeable pavers,” which had been presented at a previous meeting and had not been modified.

The Elms site runoff had been reduced to less than a 1% increase.

In addition, Mr. Sullivan said the “peak flow” — the rate at which runoff leaves the property at the height of a storm — would be less than what it is now.

“The volume of runoff is a negligible increase — it’s almost immeasurable,” Mr. Sullivan said. “There will be no negative impact to downstream properties.”

He added that it did not make sense to build a storm water retention system into the project, since it’s in the lower third of a larger watershed, and holding back water would ultimately release it later to coincide with the overall peak further upstream.

Some commission members believed this was enough verification to ease Mr. Zap’s concerns.

“With the proposed plan, the peak runoff would be less and that seems to have contributed to your recent flooding,” said Commissioner Michael Autuori.

However, other public speakers felt the Elms owners should still work with Casagmo to control storm runoff.

The proposed project aims to preserve all three buildings that face Main Street — the inn, the restaurant and the 1740 house — and use them as residential units.

The third public hearing for the revised plan was originally scheduled for June 4, but the application was withdrawn because Mr. Jewell felt there would not be enough time for the commission to adequately discuss the substantial changes made to the application.

The applicant’s consultant recommended the floating zone after reviewing the application because it would not change the existing MFDD regulations.

One of the application’s previous amendments requested the commission to waive the MFDD zone’s 50-foot setback regulation, when it seems appropriate, such as when historic buildings need to be renovated.

This alarmed commissioners, who thought the applicant was proposing changes with the goal of making the MFDD zone work better for their property.

“I want to compliment the applicant and their consultants on their patience throughout this process,” said Commissioner John Katz right before the hearing closed.

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  • David

    “We’re hoping to accommodate the applicant who’s been working patiently with us since March,”

    I was hoping you could accommodate the residents who don’t want to see any more multi-family housing on Main Street. We have been working patiently on this for 300 years. We will also be casting many more votes than the applicant come this November.

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