CHATHAM – Liana Johnson stands at the back of her Ocean Port Lane property and points to the trees covering the slope that rises behind her home. Without assurances a buffer zone of trees will remain when that upland property is developed into a 14-lot subdivision, she's worried that her land could be damaged by runoff and erosion.
Rain gardens and stormwater bio-retention areas shown on the plan for the project, designed to contain runoff, have raised questions with a number of the Ocean Port Lane neighbors, many of whose homes are down slope from the development. There are only a few examples of the use of those methods of capturing stormwater runoff in town, and their efficacy is uncertain.
“There's nothing to show they will work,” said Johnson.
Homeowners along the north side of the unpaved, horseshoe-shaped Ocean Port Lane have raised a number of questions about the Hunter's Rise subdivision, which Eastward Companies wants to build on seven acres of land off Barn Hill Road that was the former location of the Hunter's Pine Acres cottage colony. While they made it clear they're not opposed to the development, the neighbors are asking the planning board to consider their concerns about the runoff as well as traffic safety on Barn Hill Road.
“We want this to be a win-win,” said resident Bob LeValley. “But town officials have to do their job. They know the rules and regulations, we don't.”
The planning board is scheduled to review revised plans for the subdivision next Tuesday, Aug. 22. Eastward is asking the board to waive a section of rules and regulations in order to allow 13 lots on a cul-de-sac, capped in the regulations at 12. The company is also offering to donate $204,000 to the town's affordable housing trust fund in lieu of making one of the homes in the development affordable, a requirement of the town's zoning bylaw.
A neighborhood of modest homes a short walk from both the Barn Hill Road landing at the Oyster River and Harding's Beach, Ocean Port Lane is likely to be dominated by the million-dollar-plus homes that will be built in the Hunter's Rise subdivision. Residents expressed respect for the homes William Marsh, owner of Eastward Companies, has built elsewhere in town, but would like assurances that their neighborhood isn't going to be overwhelmed, or worse, damaged, by the development.
They are “not impressed by what we've seen” regarding plans to handle runoff along the slope between the two areas, said Steve Curran. The topography of Hunter's Rise runs from 48 to 30 feet with a 15-foot or greater slope along the 928-foot southern border with the Ocean Port Lane neighborhood. Some properties along that stretch already show signs of erosion, and some homes are just a few feet from the property line. If large areas are cleared and pavement and roofs are factored in, runoff is likely to increase and flow their way, the neighbors say.
They have concerns about the ability of the retention areas and rain gardens to absorb all of that runoff, as well as the flow during heavy rainfalls and in the winter, when open drainage areas may freeze. Ongoing maintenance of the structures is also a concern.
Johnson and other homeowners also want to see a buffer area of at least 15 feet maintained along the subdivision's southern property line where trees won't be removed.
“We feel strongly we need to keep those trees” both to stabilize the slope and maintain privacy, said homeowner Kathy Read.
William Riley, Eastward Company's attorney, said many of those concerns will be addressed in protective covenants developed for each of the lots requiring that future homeowners maintain a buffer. Those agreements will run with the land and will be shown on a modified subdivision plan. A homeowners association will also be formed and be responsible for maintaining the drainage structures.
“We have an obligation as the developing property owner to ensure that none of the runoff goes on their property,” Riley said. “We understand that.” He said he's confident the drainage plans developed by engineer David Clark will accommodate runoff from the development.
Several of the neighbors especially expressed concern about a rain garden proposed on lot seven that was to contain runoff from the subdivision roadway. After meeting with Marsh on Tuesday, Riley said that rain garden will be eliminated and a stormwater runoff treatment system will be placed underneath the roadway.
Safety comes into play along Barn Hill Road, where vehicles and boat trailers that use the Barn Hill Road town landing are often parked along the eastern shoulder opposite the entrance to Ocean Port Lane and the future entrance to Hunter's Rise. That sometimes forces vehicles into the other lane, making entering or exiting the roadway hazardous. Kathie Curran said she nearly had a head-on collision turning out onto Barn Hill Road.
“It was very scary,” she said. Adding 14 more homes to the area will increase traffic, especially during the summer. The residents asked for a traffic study, but the planning board rejected the idea.
Marsh has agreed to add a berm along Barn Hill Road which will alleviate a problem with runoff from that roadway gushing onto Ocean Port Lane, said Riley.
“Things will be a lot better off down there when the subdivision is finished,” Riley said.
The property was on the market for four years before Marsh agreed to buy it, said Riley, and the economics of developing a subdivision of its size dictates that all 14 lots – one of which is along Barn Hill Road and not considered as being on the cul-de-sac – are required to make it work. Eliminating one, to comply with the planning board's cul-de-sac limit, will make it harder to carry out the improvements the neighbors are looking for, he said.
Ocean Port Lane residents agree that they want Hunter's Rise to a model of coordination between the developer, the town and neighbors, “so we get the best development we can,” said Steve Curran. But they want assurances that the solutions being proposed by Marsh and that will be imposed by the planning board will be honored by future properties owners and will protect their properties in the future.
“We all have a stake in the ground here,” said LeValley.