Barn Hill Road Subdivision Developer Will Offer Buffer

By: Tim Wood

Existing buildings at the former Hunter's Pine Acres cottage colony along Barn Hill Road.  FILE PHOTO

CHATHAM – The developer of a 13-lot subdivision off Barn Hill Road will offer to include a buffer along the southern boundary to protect a steep bank from eroding.

William Riley, the attorney for developer Eastward Companies, said a 15-foot buffer will be added to the Hunter Rise subdivision as a concession to neighbors who worried about erosion and runoff along the bank, which backs up to several lots along Ocean Port Lane.

Eastward was going back and forth with the planning board on whether or not the subdivision required a waiver, and whether the board could impose a condition on its approval requiring the buffer. While an opinion from town counsel seemed to indicate that the board has the authority to impose a condition, it remained uncertain whether that could only happen if a waiver was involved.

The waiver was initially required when Eastward Companies proposed a 14-lot subdivision; under the planning board regulations, a cul-de-sac is limited to 12 lots. More recently the company removed one lot; another has frontage on Barn Hill Road, reducing the number of lots on the cul-de-sac to 12 and obviating the need for a waiver.

Riley said it's in the best interest of both the developer and the neighbors to include the buffer; if the project ended up generated runoff that eroded the hill, it could be a liability for either Eastward or the future owners. He added that because the land is within the Buck's Creek marsh watershed, it is subject to federal Environmental Protection Agency regulations which require that all stormwater runoff be retained on the lots. A site plan for each lot detailing stormwater control measures must be filed with the EPA, he said.

It was clear at a Dec. 12 planning board meeting that members wanted to be able to approve the subdivision, but were concerned about the buffer. But because the 13th lot has frontage on the cul-de-sac, some members questioned whether the waiver was still required. Riley said the developer could split the 13th lot off through an approval not required plan, but would rather not go through the process.

Town Counsel Patrick Costello wrote in a Dec. 11 email to Community Development Director Kathleen Donovan that the board could require plan modifications or mitigation measures if that would serve one of the several purposed defined in the zoning bylaw, which could include potential negative impact from grading, clearing and increased or altered stormwater flows and/or erosion. The board needs “compelling evidence” to justify any such measures, he wrote.

“The board should be somewhat more constrained in requiring plan modifications or imposing conditions, such as buffer areas, where there is no readily identifiable public safety or welfare interest (as identified above) which would be advanced thereby,” Costello wrote.

In an earlier email, Costello wrote that the concerns regarding “erosion, landslides and trees” along the subdivision's southern boundary would, “in my opinion, be properly within the board's purview when reviewing/approving a definitive plan” under its regulations and statutory authority.

Donovan told the board last week the exact mechanism to impose a buffer, if the board decides to do so, is not certain. “I don't think we've gotten to the bottom” of the concerns being raised, she said.

Riley said the buffer proposal was being sent to the community development staff in advance of the Jan. 9 planning board meeting, when the subdivision was scheduled to be taken up again.