Kohl Releases Latest Condo Proposal for February 26 Conservation Commission Hearing

Kohl Construction has released its latest proposal (PDF, 1.2MB) for condos off North Street. Despite concerns about the number of units expressed by members of both the Conservation Commission and the Planning Board, Kohl has eliminated just two units relative to its previous proposal (from 25 to 23). Here is a comparison of the latest proposal with the previous one:

Detail from latest proposal (two units proposed for Northern Avenue not shown):

Detail from previous proposal (two units proposed for Northern Avenue not shown):

In the new proposal, the large detention basin next to unit 10 is near Kohl’s test pit number 4. On page 107 of its original November proposal (PDF, 15.3MB), Kohl reported that estimated seasonal high ground water for this test pit was 28″. The proposed bottom elevation for the detention basin is 89.00 feet. The elevation of the surrounding natural slope is 90 feet, plus or minus a few inches.

The State of Massachusetts requires a minimum two-foot separation between the bottom of a stormwater management structure and seasonal high groundwater (MS Word document). It appears likely that Kohl’s proposed detention basin does not meet this standard. Possible consequences include poor management of peak stormwater flows, long periods of stagnant standing water and mosquito proliferation. We recall these cautions from the University of Sydney and Westmead Hospital:

Constructed (artificial) wetlands, built to manage and treat urban
storm and/or wastewater, come in various formats; they may start out as
simple vegetated pools but can develop into dense swamps. They have the
potential to be more productive of mosquitoes than their natural
counterparts, and must be carefully assessed for mosquito productivity
and management…

Shallow vegetated water typically supports more mosquito
breeding; deep pools with steep and deep edges, and no emergent or
surface vegetation, provide less suitable habitat for mosquitoes.

Any wetland area, constructed as a shallow vegetated pond, will be a major concern for mosquito breeding…

We also see the introduction of a new element, the underground stormwater detention system near units 4-8. We note that Bridge Street School has had significant problems with its underground detention basins and just allocated $22,000 to bypass them:

Video: School Committee Meeting of December 11; Regionalization Discussed
Funding Approved for Bridge Street School to Address Flooding
Problems: Process Stormwater with Sewer Tie-in Rather Than Detention


“Bridge Street School has an issue
with flooding because of the detention basins which are underground
there. And every time we get a downpour we have issues of flooding in
the cafeteria and then up that hallway. This will help tie into the
city system, rather than have the water go into these detention basins
which are supposed to then have the water percolate down into the
groundwater. So this will be a major improvement for Bridge Street

City of Northampton, Memo from Mayor Clare Higgins to City
Councilors, “FY 2009 Capital Improvements Program Recommendations”

Bridge Street School – Detention Basin/Sewer Tie-in – $22,000
Repairing the three dry wells at Bridge Street School was ranked as the
[Northampton Public Schools’] second highest priority. The wells are
filled with silt and the ground water backs up into the building. The
DPW has cleaned the wells but the problem still exists due to the lack
of slope and the deteriorated condition of the wells.

Kohl’s proposal will be heard by the Conservation Commission on Thursday. Concerned citizens are urged to attend:

Northampton Conservation Commission

Date: Thursday February 26, 2009
Time: 5:30 PM
Place: City Hall Hearing Room (use back door or main Crafts Avenue door) 2nd floor, 210 Main Street, Northampton

For more information: Bruce W. Young, Land Use and Conservation Planner byoung@northamptonma.gov


6:00 PM
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.

See also:

Planning Board Gives Initial Critique of Kohl Condo Proposal: Jan 22 Video

1:37:00… Planning Board chair Francis Johnson: “I think there’s a concern about the number of units…”

1:37:07… Planning Board member George Kohout:
“…perhaps this development is a little too dense for a number of
reasons. Just that it does create a different kind of burden on a
neighborhood–not quite in character…and that’s one of our big
criteria in this kind of review. It would also relax part of the stress
on wetlands by moving, let’s just say, for example, those four units,
22, 23, 24 and 25, out of there. That might allow for some different
configuration of the stormwater structures and provide more room for
some of that shared access. But I’m also struck by the offer that the
developer made about looking at single-family homes… workforce
housing…because single-unit structures would fit in much more with
this area.”

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

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…

“I’ll 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 find…

[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…”

[Below the commissioners are referring to Kohl’s condo proposal (25 units)]

2:25:40… Commissioner Paul Wetzel:
“If you’re expecting a neighborhood kind of a situation here, people
are going to expand out into these areas… If we want to hold to this
line, there are too many units [in Kohl’s proposal].”

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.”

2:46:30… Commissioner Paul Wetzel:
“The biggest thing is water… Mr. Tatro mentioned that, in his final
statement…no one would build back here because it’s squishy. Well, I
can see that this water could be a problem. Everybody else says it’s a
problem… You’re going to have to move it [the condo units] out, which
means that…some of these planned units are going to be x’ed… You
need the space… I’m looking at unit 11 and 12 and 13…”

2:55:25… Commissioner Kevin Lake: “I’m
imagining impact on the wetland over time, with 25 families–if there
is no greenspace or play area built into the project–to be
worrisome… Having been a kid, that’s where I’m going to go, unless
there’s someplace else.”

2:56:19… Commissioner Downey Meyer:
“I understand that there is every incentive to maximize the revenue
generated by the project, but I don’t think that you have to start with
that assumption. There’s plenty of examples of where developers are
forced to in riverfront-area-type situations are forced to give up
lots, otherwise buildable lots. There’s the same issue here… Even if
everything is outside of 35 feet, the project is still evaluated for
its impact on the wetlands… DEP stormwater [standards] does not deal
with salt. It just doesn’t. As far as I know…I don’t know of any
effective treatment options for removing salt, and yet chloride
pollution in New England is a very big problem…some areas in New
England are becoming brackish water… the Commission can’t ignore
impacts because they’re small. The jurisdiction runs to cumulative

Gazette Reports on January 22 Kohl Condo Hearings; Pictures of the Latest Proposal; Conservation Staff Report; HYLA Critique

“Innovative Non-Zoning Approaches to Encourage Smart Growth and Protect Public Health” – Video with Wayne Feiden and Bruce Young
1:03:00… Young: “We have some serious challenges ahead of us.
And one is… ‘HIGs’, holes in the ground. And so, what we’re saying
is, we want good infill development, but through our Wetlands Ordinance
we didn’t really adopt stormwater standards that would improve the
stormwater in these infill areas. So we have a challenge to come up
with better design standards for stormwater instead of these giant
holes in the ground, and to actually require or implement some, or
incentivize some low-impact development type of stormwater systems. And
then…the second thing that goes with stormwater systems is
maintenance… We’re working with the Department of Public Works that
now has a stormwater manager and we’re setting up maintenance for these
systems, but some of these are older systems and some of these have
been approved under a system that didn’t have basically [what’s modern]
for these types of systems…

“And then finally, Wayne and I
mentioned this earlier, design standards in architectural ordinances.
We really need to think about how the infill happens. Because if we’re
saying we want a house between two houses, and we can’t get the
neighborhood to buy onto houses that are just not helping the

At 1:13:30 during the Q&A session, Cohen asked Feiden and
Young about the Meadowbrook Apartments. The experience of this
development raises concerns about the hazards of building homes near
wetlands. As former City Councilor Mike Kirby wrote in June:

The developers built 255 units of affordable
apartments there. They crammed them in everywhere they could, pushing
them up into the bluffs, and close to the creek and wetlands. No
backyards to speak of. One third of the buildings were built within 50
feet of the wetlands, 63% of the buildings are within the customary 100
feet of wetlands.

None of the buildings have cellars under their
apartments. If they have cellars, there are people living in them. The
cellar floors in the basement apartments in Buildings #4 and #2 are
lower than the surrounding swamp. Some slabs have cracks in them.
People have been flooded out. No moisture-proof barriers between the
surrounding earth and the foundations. Moisture and mold percolate up
into people’s apartments via the chases that hold utilities. If you
wonder why low-income children are afflicted with a whole host of
respiratory diseases, you have to look no further than the children of
the floor level and basement apartments of Meadowbrook…

Feiden and Young were apparently unfamiliar with the problems at Meadowbrook…

Flood and Natural Hazard Mitigation Plan: Floyd Flood Damage Reported
Behind View Avenue; Avoid Building on Filled Wetlands

In the map below, the red flag behind View Avenue (the topmost
flag) indicates a flood damage report from Tropical Storm Floyd (1999).
This area is in the eastern portion of Kohl Construction’s proposed condo site, one of the more elevated portions. We infer that much of Kohl’s property may be at risk from heavy rainfall events.

Photos Show: Man-Made Lakes and Stormwater Retention Systems
Are No Substitute for Natural Wetlands

1 min 9 sec from the end of the presentation

sheen of oil covers a portion of the stormwater retention system at
Towne Centre in Mount Pleasant. The system is designed to capture
leaking motor oil, antifreeze, brake dust, fertilizer and other urban
runoff from impervious surfaces such as pavement. Under federal
guidelines, this pond is considered a man-made wetland.”

1 min 1 sec from the end of the presentation

“A stormwater pond is filled with algae at Towne Center at Mount Pleasant.”

0 min 53 sec from the end of the presentation

stands at the edge of a murky stormwater retention pond in Ivy Hall
that Everett said was once a forest-lined isolated wetland. While the
low grass held carnivorous sundew plants, the stump-filled water was
largely devoid of visible aquatic life. ‘This looks awful,’ she said.”

0 min 45 sec from the end of the presentation

points to a patch of algae growing along the banks of a stormwater
retention pond at Belle Hall Plantation in Mount Pleasant. Though the
pond is aerated by a fountain, heavy flows of fertilizers can
contribute to the algae’s growth…”

0 min 37 sec from the end of the presentation

band of white pollutants and algae float at the top of a stormwater
retention pond at Belle Hall Plantation. Though created to handle
pollution and often full of mosquito larvae, this type of pond is
considered a functioning wetland under definitions by the U.S.
Department of the Interior.”

Carlon Drive: Compensatory Wetland Not Working
Mike Kirby writes:
Carlon Drive, they simply scooped out a hole in the swamp-bottom, and
called it a detention structure. Today it is just a pond, and a
stagnant smelly one. It was designed to have a dry forebay, and a
shallow main chamber was supposed to have only about 6 inches of water
in it. This was supposed to be a compensatory wetland, full of cattails
and wildflowers. A rock check dam was supposed to hold back the “first
flush” off the parking lots and trap pollutants, and outflow from it
was supposed to feed the wet part of the detention pond. Here rain
water pouring off the new parking areas and street was supposed to be
stored, and discharged safely.

That was the plan. Today if you
stand by the pond and look down into it, you’ll see the check dam is
now about two feet underwater. You can’t even see where they planted
the marshgrass and flowers. The area is under water. Even in a fairly
dry summer, the detention pond is only about a foot and a half from the
top of the bank. There’s no storage to speak of, no discharge, no
filtering. As it is constructed now, grey water from the parking lots
and the access street goes directly into the swamp and the Connecticut

Alex Ghiselin, Letter to Gazette: “Don’t let development encroach on our wetlands”
failure of the storm water system built as a part of the Northampton
High School renovation six years ago illustrates why protecting
wetlands is so important. Silt has filled the retention pond so there
is no capacity to slow a storm surge which now flows unimpeded into the
Mill River and contributes to flooding downstream. This accumulated
silt also raised the water table and spills ground water into nearby

Without maintenance, these [storm water mitigation] systems are part of the problem, not the solution…

Wetlands do not need to be maintained; they just need to be protected.

EPA: Do Stormwater Retention Ponds Contribute to Mosquito Problems?
Mosquito proliferation in stormwater ponds is a concern,
especially when so many wet and dry ponds are in place and continue to
be installed across the country. Many ponds are not properly
maintained, particularly in cases where they are installed in
subdivisions and other developments where the entity responsible for
long-term maintenance is not clearly defined once the construction is

Detention Pools, Children and Drowning

Our Ad in Today’s Gazette: A Review of Our Objections to the Kohl Condo Proposal

Some claim that because Kohl’s proposed condos are within walking distance
of downtown and have a high density, they are a good example of Smart
Growth. However, there’s more to it than that, according to the Urban Land Institute (ULI).

True Smart Growth respects green infrastructure, such as trees and wetlands. These greenspaces filter the air, reduce the urban heat island effect, enhance property values and moderate stormwater flows, and they do it inexpensively. Urban greenspace is associated with improved physical and mental health and greater social cohesion in neighborhoods.

True Smart Growth preserves a community’s character, unlike development that
“bears little relationship to a community’s history, culture, or
geography.” ULI says homebuyers are increasingly attracted to
vernacular and historical house styles that characterize their
immediate area or region. Quoting Jim Constantine, a market specialist
who does “curb appeal” surveys for developers, “Consumers are turned
off by cookie-cutter subdivisions and the homogenous look of houses.”
Unfortunately, that’s exactly what Kohl Construction is offering the

Topographical Map Shows How Kohl Condo Proposal Will Eat Into a Rare Stand of Mature Trees in Downtown

Condo Monotony: The Future of Ward 3?