Commission Seeks Outside Help To Review Plan To Fill Waterfront Lot

By: Tim Wood

Thousands of yards of fill is proposed to be brought in to elevate this Pleasant Bay-front property in North Chatham. The historic old home shown here, one of the oldest in Chatham, is proposed to be moved elsewhere on the property and a new house built in its place. COURTESY PHOTO

CHATHAM – The conservation is considering hiring an outside consultant to provide advice on a proposal to redevelop land along Pleasant Bay that lies completely within the flood zone. The property also happens to be the location of what many consider the oldest house in town.

The proposal would alter the land by bringing in more than 6,000 yards of fill to raise the elevation from seven to 12 feet, which would put it just above the 10-foot flood level.

“This is something obviously outside of our area of experience,” said commission chair Janet Williams. “It's a significant change, and it's a lot of topographical change. We want to be completely satisfied we have thoroughly analyzed the issues in terms of impacts.”

Owner Joe Giacalone is proposing to build a new house at the three-acre property at 68 Shell Dr. in approximately the same spot where the circa 1700 Nickerson-Howes House sits today. The house was built by the son of William Nickerson, Chatham's first European settler, and may be one of the town's few remaining “First Period” homes built prior to 1725. Giacalone plans to save the core of the old house and relocate it to the south side of the property to be used as a guest house.

At a hearing last Wednesday, the conservation commission didn't get into the details of the relocation of the historic house, instead concentrated on learning about the technical side of the development, including the proposal to bring in the fill to cover approximately 70,000 square feet of the lot.

Even though the fill will raise the grade above the flood level, the new house will be built on a FEMA-compliant foundation and will meet building code requirements for construction within a flood zone, said attorney William Riley. A new Title 5 septic system will also be constructed.

The current house and barns – portions of which are slated to be moved to Sandwich to be preserved by the Nye Family Museum – cover about 3,600 square feet, said engineer David Clark, and the new dwelling, including a patio and swimming pool, will cover 6,400 square feet. A major reason for bringing in the fill, he said, is to raise the elevation of the driveway, which is now not much more than a cart path. Currently, there is not enough space for emergency vehicles to turn around; that will be remedied under the proposal, he said.

Leslie Fields, a coastal geologist and certified flood plain manager with the Woods Hole Group, said the alterations will not have an impact on adjacent resources. The property is essentially a bowl, surrounded by wetlands and dunes; a berm was added along the seaward side of the property after the No-name storm n the 1990s. However, computer models show the raised elevation will not divert flood waters onto neighboring properties, Alex Shaw of the Woods Hole Group.

“The changes we're making aren't effecting anybody else's property,” Riley said. “We know sea level rise is occurring, and this is really just an appropriate way to protect this property and keep as a usable property.”

Raising the driveway, especially, will help maintain access to the property during flooding, Riley said. During projected storm events, the houses would be mostly surrounded by water and could stay that way for days or even weeks.

The property lies within the Pleasant Bay Area of Critical Environmental Concern, which could trigger further review. The project also requires a special permit from the zoning board of appeals.

The plan calls for replacing invasive species with native plantings, including removing 21 trees and adding seven new ones. Commissioner Bob Ralls said that was well below the usual one-to-one ratio of tree removal and replacement the commission likes to see. Adding 411 shrubs is positive, he said, but “nothing replaces the ecological value of a tree.”

The commission asked for several changes to the plan and requested that the project team review its analysis of alternatives for redevelopment.

“There's a universe of alternatives between leaving it as it is and building a 7,000-square-foot-footprint house and pool and terrace” in terms of reducing the impact to wetland resources, Williams said. Commissioners will discuss hiring an independent consultant to review the plan and the report by the Woods Hole Group, she added.

The commission continued the hearing to Feb. 10.