Video: Conservation Commission Meeting of 2/12/09; Meeting Protocol; Subcommittee for Northampton Wetlands Ordinance Revisions

Here is an excerpt from the Conservation Commission meeting of February 12. This Vimeo video is 46 minutes long and was recorded by Javier Luengo.

Topics covered in the video include:

  • Discussion on Conservation Commission meeting protocol
    Video: 0:00:00-0:33:47
    This discussion has a ‘best practices’ flavor–how to run meetings in a clear, consistent and efficient manner.
  • Discussion on forming a subcommittee for Northampton Wetlands Ordinance Revisions
    Video: 0:33:48-0:42:23
    C. Mason Marron and Downey Meyer will serve on this subcommittee. The goal is to recommend modifications and clarifications of the Wetlands Ordinance to City Council. Land Use and Conservation Planner Bruce Young will work with Marron and Meyer during the revision process. The date of the first meeting of the subcommittee has not yet been announced.

      The North Street Neighborhood Association, in consultation with HYLA Ecological Services, recommends these changes to the Wetlands Ordinance in zoning districts URB and URC:

      • No disturbance closer than 25 feet
      • No more than 10%-15% of that portion of the buffer zone that’s 25-50 feet from a wetland should be covered with impervious surface of any kind
      • No structures closer than 50 feet EXCEPT
      • At the discretion of the Conservation Commission, the landowner may build a structure in the portion of the buffer zone that’s 25-50 feet from a wetland, provided the structure covers no more than 10% of that portion of the buffer zone

      Other exceptions:

      • Building on existing impervious surfaces or modifying (without enlarging footprint of) existing structures in the buffer zone
      • Emergency projects
      • Exception for some class of limited projects – most notably driveways

  • Discussion on Conference for Improving Water Quality and Habitat Values in Vernal Pools and Massachusetts Association of Conservation Commissions Annual Environmental Conference
    Video: 0:42:24-0:45:57

See also:

New Hazards Mitigation Plan Reflects Weakened Protection for Wetlands
Earlier this year, NSNA engaged Hyla to compare Northampton’s new
Wetlands Ordinance to the regulations in other cities across
Massachusetts. Hyla found that Northampton is now an outlier. In the entire state, it’s hard to find anything similar to our 10-foot buffer zones for new development.

Conservation Commission Meeting of 1/22/09; Non-Compliance with
Wetlands Protection Agreements; Kohl Asked to Revise Condo Proposal

Video: 0:04:07-1:10:00
Continuation of a Notice of Intent filed by Jim Harrity on behalf of
EBD Corp. for the construction of a mixed-use building, associated
parking areas, driveways, sidewalks, utilities, landscaping and
stormwater management system. Project is proposed to take place in the
100-foot buffer zone of Bordering Vegetated Wetlands. Project location
is 225 Nonotuck Street, Map Id 23A-281.

Selected highlights
0:39:00-0:51:01… Bruce Young:
“Honestly I have too much going on [to closely monitor EBD’s planting
plan], and part of that ‘too much’ is enforcing encroachments on
projects similar to this. So, to add to this, I’d like to say that I
would recommend that the commission require large boulders two feet on
center across the entire encroachment zone…four feet in diameter
boulders two feet apart… I think two feet keeps people from mowing
and creates a border…. Because I’ve spent a huge amount of time going
to these projects now that we had, we started a few years ago at 30
feet apart, then we went to 25 feet apart, now we’re at 15. Actually,
I’ve had enough. I’ve had enough of sending enforcement orders to
people and having them deny them in the mail, and then have it come
back to me, and then having to send one certified mail, and then have
them deny it three times before I have to issue a…someone to deliver
a subpeona, and then this is a huge waste of time for someone who is
mowing down a wetland that is a…what begins in the process as a fair
kind of negotiation but then turns into…it gets sold to one person
who gets sold to another and people…no longer respect that line…

show you a picture of another project where we asked for two-foot
diameter [boulders] and I have a picture of my shoe next to it and my
shoe actually is about two inches longer, and I know I don’t have
two-foot long feet. I have big feet but they’re not that big. So I’d
prefer to say four foot in diameter. Large boulders. They can’t be
moved. You can’t pick them up. You can’t roll them out of the way and
mow the wetland. We’re talking long term…

[Responding to a
Harrity’s suggestion of a white picket fence instead of large
boulders:] “A hundred-year white picket fence would be difficult to

[Harrity: “We could put it in the association bylaws that it needs to be maintained…the annual inspection…”]

thing is that’s all fine and dandy but what happens is somebody just
decides to cut it down or move it or take it out, and it’s happened on
almost every negotiation we’ve made…since I’ve been here, four years,
almost every single one. There’s one that I can say that there is not a
single encroachment, and that’s Pat Melnick’s new project and it has
boulders all the way around it, and that’s the only one…

“You can put a stone wall, or you can put boulders, what else lasts 150 years?…

to a suggestion from Commissioner Kevin Lake to combat the encroachment
problem through covenants:] “We have [an agreement] with Cardinal Way.
We have a covenant that says, there’s a 75-foot no-disturb area, and
there will be granite bollards placed every 25 feet along this 75-foot
no-disturb… And what we have is, we have smashed granite bollards
that are sitting in the mowed wetlands. That people have smashed the
bollards, threw them back in the woods, and then mowed all the way up
to edge of the woods…mowed down all the wetland vegetation and so now
what we have is (and there’s a shed sitting in the middle of the
wetland now) and what we have is large grass and my letters that I sent
to them saying, you don’t have the right to do this, and them coming
back to me saying, any letter that comes to them from the city is
refused in the mail…

“My position has already been cut down to
three days for conservation, and there’s no time for this, and there’s
no one else out there doing it…”

Video: 1:10:10-3:06:30

Continuation of a Notice of Intent filed by Tofino Associates, Inc. and
Northern Avenue Homes, Inc. for the construction of twenty-five
dwelling units and associated roadways, parking areas, driveways,
sidewalks, utilities, landscaping and stormwater management system.
Project is proposed to take place in the 100-foot buffer zone of
Bordering Vegetated Wetlands. Project location is Northern Avenue, Map
Id 25C-12 and 25C-17.

Selected highlights:
2:18:06… Commissioner Paul Wetzel:
“Last time, I thought that the Commission said that things should be
out of the 35-foot buffer… I’m disappointed… I still see there are
a lot of hydrological [stormwater management] aspects of the project
that are in within the 35 feet… I think that we should hold, hold to
the line…and that includes all the hydrology [all the detention
basins, all the constructed items]. Now if there’s a little bit of
grading I’m not going to be so concerned about it… Bruce almost said
the exact same thing as Mr. Seewald about enforcing convenants and
things like that…”

2:29:30… Commissioner Downey Meyer:
“When the ordinance was passed, there were a lot of comments that by
placing the 35-foot limit in black and white that that would become the
line at which everything would reside… The structures within [the]
35-foot zone are too significant, and again to Paul’s point, the number
of structures within even the 100-foot zone is such that incursion
seems to me inevitable, that people will expand beyond the
footprint…it’s not a question of our intentions but…imagine the
worst, the Holmesian ‘bad man’…you have to draft rules for the worst
actor, for the least responsive landowner, especially if they’re
supposed to protect a resource that is supposed to last in
perpetuity… I think that…space prevents incursion.”

City Council Enacts New Wetlands Ordinance, Including 10-Foot Buffers
When illustrating how the new ordinance might be applied, Bruce Young
dwelt on the hypothetical example of a homeowner who wants to build an
accessory apartment on their property, and how relaxed buffer zone
requirements could facilitate that. While this came across as innocuous
and benign, there was no discussion of the cumulative impact of many
landowners encroaching on wetlands. It’s easy to see how the
Conservation Commission, by giving away our flood protection piecemeal
over time, could materially impact the city’s experience during the
next major rainstorm.

Also glossed over was the impact of major
projects, such as Kohl Construction’s [25] condo units proposed for the
woods behind North Street…
Besides the units themselves, this project calls for new roads and
numerous parking spaces–a considerable amount of new impervious
surface. It would result in major disturbance of a large zone within 50
feet of wetlands, a far cry from the impact of one accessory apartment.

Councilor Narkewicz objected to the holding up of Springfield’s wetlands regulations
as a model for Northampton. He said that while Springfield requires a
minimum of a 50-foot undisturbed buffer, it will grant variances. He
neglected to mention that these variances are conditioned on the
applicant demonstrating that “work or alterations within the fifty (50)
foot buffer will enhance the wetland interests specified under this
ordinance”. We stand by our claim that Springfield’s regulations are
considerably more friendly to the environment than Northampton’s new
ordinance. As the Valley Advocate
reports this week, “A member of the Springfield Conservation Commission
who declined to be identified stated that Northampton’s 10-foot buffer
zone in parts of the city was not smart, as developers usually are
afforded a five-foot discretion either way. Also, the official noted,
it is nearly impossible not to impact wetlands when working at such
close range…”

Gazette: “Council adopts wetlands ordinance”
City Councilor James M. Dostal proposed an amendment Thursday that
called for increasing the 10 feet no-encroachment zones in urban
residential districts to 50 feet because of serious concerns about
homes flooding, saying “We shouldn’t be building there…”

Hyla Ecological Services Analyzes the Proposed Wetlands Ordinance
of less than 50 feet in width are generally ineffective in protecting
wetlands. Buffers larger than 50 feet are necessary to protect wetlands
from an influx of sediment and nutrients, to protect wetlands from
direct human disturbance, to protect sensitive wildlife species from
adverse impacts, and to protect wetlands from the adverse effects of
changes in quantity of water entering the wetland… (Castelle et al.,
‘Wetland Buffers: Use and Effectiveness’, 1992)

“Buffer function
was found to be directly related to the width of the buffer.
Ninety-five percent of buffers smaller than 50 feet suffered a direct
human impact within the buffer, while only 35% of buffers wider than 50
feet suffered direct human impact. Human impacts to the buffer zone
resulted in increased impact on the wetland by noise, physical
disturbance of foraging and nesting areas, and dumping refuse and yard
waste. Overall, large buffers reduced the degree of changes in water
quality, sediment load, and the quantity of water entering the adjacent
wetland.” (Castelle et al., 1992)

Just Released: Planner’s Guide to Wetland Buffers for Local Governments (emphasis added)
In an assessment of 21 established buffers in two
Washington counties, Cooke (1992) found that 76%
of the buffers were negatively altered over time. Buffers
of less than 50 feet were more susceptible to degradation
by human disturbance. In fact, no buffers of
25 feet or less were functioning to reduce disturbance
to the adjacent wetland
. The buffers greater than 50
feet showed fewer signs of human disturbance…

The Role and Function of Forest Buffers in the Chesapeake Bay Basin for Nonpoint Source Management
The shade provided by a riparian forest buffer moderates stream
temperatures and levels of dissolved oxygen. These factors are critical
for fisheries and submerged aquatic vegetation, but also have water
quality implications. Temperature increases the rate at which nutrients
attached to suspended solids are converted to readily available
(soluble) forms. As stream temperature increases above 60° F
significant increases in phosphorus release from sediments occurs (Karr
and Schlosser, 1978). In this way, the loss of forest shade may
exaggerate nonpoint pollutant effects by reducing the streams ability
to assimilate organic wastes and inducing algae blooms and low oxygen
levels… Human habitat is also important. Forest buffers in urban
areas provide a unique linkage between people and their environment…
Forests should be retained as greenbelts along streams and drainageways
during development…