Video: Conservation Commission Meeting of 6/11/09

Here is a complete video of the 6/11/09 meeting of Northampton’s Conservation Commission. This video is 1 hour 50 minutes long and was recorded by Lachlan Ziegler. With respect to the Kohl Construction/Tofino Associates proposal to build 23 condos off of North Street, the commission aims to select a hydrogeologist at its June 25 meeting to evaluate the impact of the proposal on the site. The commission hopes to be able to review this evaluation at its July 23 meeting. The Kohl proposal is also on the agenda of the Planning Board’s June 25 meeting (7pm, City Council Chambers).

Here is the agenda of the Conservation Commission meeting:

Date: Thursday June 11, 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


Approval of Minutes for 05/14/2009 and 05/28/2009

5:30 PM (0:03:30-0:34:45 on video)
Policy discussion on No-Disturb Area boundary marker requirements

6:00 PM (0:34:46-0:36:39 on video)
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.

6:05 PM (starts at 0:36:40 on video)
Public meeting on Barrett Street Marsh management and maintenance issues

See also:

Video: Planning Board Reviews the Latest Kohl Condo Proposal on 5/14/09
During the hearing, several board members expressed a desire to see the proposal shrink by 3-5 units.

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

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.

Gazette: “Early count too close to call on Kohl project” (5/19/09)

Gazette: “Wetlands, density bog down Northampton condo plans” (5/15/09)

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
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.”

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

Tropical Storm Floyd Flood Damage Report (1999)
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.

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”…

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

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… Land Use and Conservation Planner 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…”