Video: Conservation Commission Reviews Latest Kohl Condo Proposal on 5/14/09

Here is a Vimeo video of a portion of the 5/14/09 meeting of Northampton’s Conservation Commission. This video is 2 hours 34 minutes long and was recorded by Adam Cohen. Most of the recording is devoted to the Conservation Commission’s review of Kohl Construction’s latest 23-unit condo proposal for North Street. This video is also available at At both blip and Vimeo, you may download the video file to your computer. This facilitates flipping back and forth through the recording.

Our video of the May 14 Planning Board hearing on the condo proposal is coming soon.

Here are the agenda items covered in the video:

Review of planning special permit request to receive frontage credit
for the donation of land and frontage for the purpose of creating a
Norwottuck Rail Trail access ramp. Project location is Jackson Street,
Map ID 24A-55.

Notice of Intent filed by Stephen Henderson of Classic Management for
River Run Condominiums for the installation of replacement sewer main,
new drainage utility, repaving of existing sidewalks, patios and
parking areas. Work is proposed to take place in Riverfront Area and
the 100′ buffer zone to Bordering Vegetated Wetlands. Project location
is 80 Damon Road Map ID 18D-53.

6:00PM (video time 0:33:33-2:34:25)
Notice of Intent filed by Tofino Associates, Inc. and Northern Avenue
Homes, Inc. for the construction of twenty-three 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.

Both of Northampton’s At-Large City Councilors, Jim Dostal and Michael Bardsley, attended the Kohl hearing as members of the audience, as did a candidate for that position, Jesse Adams. Councilor Bardsley spoke in opposition to the condo proposal during 1:07:00-1:09:30.

Kohl’s own test pit data (PDF, 735KB) shows areas along and south of Northern Avenue where removing existing fill (necessary to secure the condo foundations) would involve work below the level of seasonal high groundwater. For test pits 9, 10 and 11, compare the depth of fill to the depth of the estimated seasonal high water table:

The potential impact to groundwater flows appeared to concern some members of the Conservation Commission, who called for an independent expert evaluation of how the proposed development would impact the hydrology of the site. The condo proposal will be taken up again by the commission at its June 11 meeting.

Added on 5/21/09:

Staff report prepared for 5/14/09 hearing by Conservation and Land Use Planner Bruce Young

Notice of Intent filed by
Tofino Associates, Inc. and Northern Avenue Homes, Inc. for the construction of
twenty-three 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.


DEP Comments:

To meet the Stormwater
Management Standards, a project proponent needs to consider the following three
stormwater management components in this order of priority:  Site Planning: Design the development using
environmentally sensitive site design and low impact development techniques to
preserve natural vegetation, minimize impervious surfaces, slow down times of
concentration, and reduce runoff; Source Controls, Pollution Prevention, and
Construction Period Erosion and Sediment Control: Implement nonstructural
measures to prevent pollution or control it at its source; and Structural BMPs:
Design, construct and maintain structural BMPs to attenuate peak flows, capture
and treat runoff, and provide recharge to groundwater. Proponents can reduce
the volume of stormwater that they are required to recharge by using the LID
Site Design Credit. [2] The following BMPs may be used to infiltrate stormwater
in compliance with Standard 3: dry wells; infiltration basins; infiltration
trenches; subsurface structures; leaching catch basins; exfiltrating
bioretention areas and porous pavement. [3] The Commission should use Volume 1
Chapter 1 as well as Volume 3, Chapter 1 of the Stormwater Management Handbook
to assist in review. The Stormwater Standards are incorporated into the
Wetlands Protection Act regulations as per 310 CMR 10.05(6)(k) through 310 CMR 10.05(6)(q).
[4] All BMPs must be designed, constructed, operated, and maintained in
accordance with the specifications and procedures set forth in Volume 2 of the
Massachusetts Stormwater Handbook.


Staff Recommendation:


Conditions #1-32

-Above ground cisterns could
be used to catch and store some of the roof runoff.

4’ diameter boulders spaced 4’ apart along the entire Limit of Disturbance Line

word “should” in the Declaration of Covenants needs to be replaced with the
word “shall.”

gutters are proposed to drain to infiltration basins.  The applicant should provide a roof gutter
debris prevention and maintenance plan.

completion of construction activities, the applicant should provide the
Northampton Conservation Commission with Baseline Documentation of the
vegetation and site conditions of the 35’ No-Disturb area.

The proposed $5000 in escrow is not enough to cover completion of a restoration
plan and restoration of a minimum of 5% of the Resource Area and No-Disturb

should provide a sediment removal plan for the pervious pavement areas.

covenant should be provided that prohibits chemical treatment of lawns,
landscaped areas and parking areas on the site

See also:

Gazette: “Early count too close to call on Kohl project” (5/19/09)
The Conservation Commission decided to hire a hydrogeologist to assess how the project’s stormwater plan might impact the wetlands in the area.

The commission will take up the matter again at a public hearing June 11 meeting, when it hopes to discuss the results of the independent study before making a decision on a notice of intent to build near wetlands.

Gazette: “Wetlands, density bog down Northampton condo plans” (5/15/09)
After a two-hour discussion that touched on several issues related to
managing stormwater in the flood-prone area, the Conservation
Commission decided to continue the public hearing and to seek out the
opinion of a hydrogeologist on how the project’s stormwater plan might
impact the wetlands in the area.

“I want an independent opinion,” said member Downey Meyer, who floated the idea because of the project’s size…

Kohl Files New Notice of Intent Ahead of May 14 Hearings

Our Ad in the April 11 Gazette: Slab-on-Grade Foundations Raise Questions of Durability

Tree Loss and Slab-on-Grade Foundations: A Poor Fit with the Sustainable Northampton Plan
Durability is an important value in Envisioning Sustainable Northampton, the book recently produced by the Notre Dame School of Architecture:

The Notre Dame School of Architecture’s guiding ideal is a built
environment that is convenient, durable and beautiful;
and we contend that by being convenient, durable and beautiful, the
built environment will necessarily also be sustainable. (page 1)

Durable Construction: In promoting sustainable building construction in Northampton, rewarding builders for
using a limited palette of low-embodied energy building materials–e.g., integral masonry bearing walls, heavy
timber frames, slate or clay tile pitched roofs; no steel reinforced concrete or steel lintels–will result in an
environment of beautiful buildings that will last for hundreds of years, an essential component of a sustainable
human settlement… (page 7)

Tasha Lucas…from Monster Constructors, adds:

Slab-on-grade foundations are constructed with reinforced concrete and
are usually shallow, quickly built, and inexpensive. For a builder that
doesn’t have to live in the homes that he builds, slab foundations are
a dream. Slab foundations are used with homes that do not have
basements. A major disadvantage to slab-on-grade foundations is that
they are not resistant to seasonal movement changes and moisture
disbursement due to root growth. In other words, slab foundations are
not a long-term option for homes in North Texas…

We’ve previously noted how the area at the end of View Avenue, at a relatively high point on Kohl’s land, reported flood damage
from Tropical Storm Floyd in 1999. It’s also still an open question
whether some of the condos would be built on filled wetlands, which is
disfavored by the 2004 Flood and Natural Hazard Mitigation Plan (PDF, 1.5MB):

Many areas of the City were developed before the passage of the
Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act of 1972. Historically filled
wetlands are commonly related to problems with wet basements, flooding,
shifting foundations and failed septic systems. Development in
historically filled wetlands should be discouraged through zoning in
order to protect health and safety. (page 24)

Combined with the high water table, there is ample reason to be
concerned about water intrusion damaging the condos, reinforcing the
overall concern about the durability of the proposed structures. The
condos would likely face several tests over their lifetime. The latest Hazards Mitigation Plan
estimates that tropical systems hit the Massachusetts coastline every
six years on average. Since Floyd struck in 1999, the next one is

Our Guest Article at Northampton Redoubt: “The Kohl condo proposal and the Struggle Over the Meaning of Infill”

Valley Advocate: “Bogged Down – Doug Kohl runs into trouble with plans for his subdivision off North Street in Northampton” (3/17/09)

Video: Conservation Commission Meeting of 3/12/09; Deadlock on Kohl Condo Proposal
[Below, Paul Wetzel and Downey Meyer refer to a version of Kohl’s condo proposal with 23 units and 1.10 acres of impervious surface. The current version has 23 units and 1.04 acres of impervious surface. NSNA argues the two versions are not much different.]

3:00:22… Commissioner Paul Wetzel: “…I’m just going to say
something, we’ve spent a lot of time listening… right now as this
plan…I’m inclined to deny it. And its just because…if we were
looking at whether this development has an impact on the wetlands, I
think it’s going to have an impact on the wetlands. And, I see, a
number of things, primarily the underground [detention basin] getting
in the way of the hydrology connections underground…”

3:01:06… Wetzel: “…and the fact that everything is so close,
and the people are…it just seems too crowded, and it seems like for a
first project it’s not a precedent I want to set…

3:11:40… Wetzel: “So to me, getting rid of these guys [points
to condo units 1-10]…is a big help” because they are at a relatively
low elevation close to the water table. He wants more room to be made
for the development’s normal operations, such as snow clearing and snow
storage. He believes that violations of wetlands protection covenants
are likely to occur over time…

3:33:39… Meyer: “…I see the planting plan, and I think
the planting plan is a significant benefit. I think that removing the
invasives that are there, and planting species that are high value for
habitat, and…food sources for birds and other wildlife is very
important. But, I also see a lot of the grading…and a lot of
disturbance of existing uplands. That is, there are non-native species,
but they are functioning, as upland habitat, and I guess I also
see…at the north end–and this is where it’s…interesting that Paul
points this out that for him, this is the unproblematic part of the
project, because it’s higher–…unit 21 that falls inside the 50-foot

3:51:13…: Meyer: “This has been the problem with this
project from the beginning… When the footprint of the project
impinges on the wetlands, there’s no other place to do improvements…
If you had the project heavily concentrated in one end of the site,
going right to 35 feet, but nothing was happening down at the other end
of the site, then there’s some place where you can do significant
mitigation in the 35 to 50 foot zone… I don’t think that the
difficulty is something that is set in stone. I think it’s generated to
a certain extent by the design of the project.”

Watering-up: Studies of Groundwater Rising After Trees Cut
…”sites most susceptible to [hydrology] changes after clearcutting were
the transition ones between the bogs or fens and the uplands.” This
appears to describe well the land Kohl proposes to remove trees from.
An average rise on the order of 20 cm (7.9 inches) in the water table
is plausible. This could put unanticipated strains both on the
foundations of the condos and on the stormwater mitigation system, a
major component of which is underground. In addition, “the clear-cut of
riparian and other wetland vegetation may lead to
ecosystem conversion, i.e., to the encroachment…of
water-tolerant or of shallow-rooted invasive species.” Conservation and
Land Use Planner Bruce Young has shown a keen interest in controlling invasive species on Kohl’s land.

The phenomenon of groundwater rising after tree harvests is common enough to have its own term: “watering-up”…

Cold Spring Environmental Consultants re: Effects of Norway Spruce Removal on Hydrogeology (PDF, 42KB)
See Jono Neiger’s contentions about these effects and our further research.

Mike Kirby: “The Meadowbrook Chronicles Part One”
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

Cellars are a wonderful thing;
you’re away from the groundwater and dampness. Our first big purchase
after we bought our house in 1983 was a top-of-line Sears submersible
pump. For twenty-five years it has been working without human
supervision. The float goes up, it goes on, the float falls, it shuts
off. Whoosh-whoosh in the cellar, all is right with the world.

Gazette: “Council adopts wetlands ordinance” (2007)
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…”