The regular monthly meeting of the Conservation Commission earlier this evening was a full house with a record number of residents, nearly two dozen, turning out to hear a presentation, ask questions, and voice concernsabout a proposed 32-lot subdivision off of South Main Street named "Majestic Oak Estates." The land owner, Attorney Ralph Wilson, presented to the Conservation Commission a modified plan that was approved by the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Agency (IW/W) at its meeting of September 7, 2011 and is scheduled to be presented to the Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) on this Wednesday, January 25th.
In response to comment by resident Sebastian Balolotta in which he made an analogy to allowing an airplane to take off with a known or possible engine problem, Commission Chairperson Jane Brawerman stated that "we have no jurisdiction over this plan. We are merely an advisory body, and our opportunity to comment has passed." Brawerman added that if it is determined that information is missing from the plan then there is a process that can be followed to request a reassessment. She also said that the Commission can and will make recommendations and hopes that they will be fully considered and followed, but she reiterated that the Conservation Commission has no regulatory power.
Resident Karen Peddle submitted a letter to the Conservation Commission that was signed "Concerned Residents" and states that there is a watercourse located south of Watch Hill Drive which is not delineated on the site plan and is said to traverse through five of the northern lots in the areas where houses and septic systems are proposed to be constructed. This letter also notes that there was no public hearing on this application organized by IW/W, and that residents had no opportunity to formally submit this information into the public record until now.
Resident Marcy Klattenberg spoke about her experience surveying this property for birds in the 1980s and her knowledge of the vernal pools, which she called "high quality" and emphasized the need to protect them and the biodiversity that rely on them.
Commissioner Joan Liska thanked Mr. Wilson for presenting his proposal to the Conservation Commission and for making the modifications from the original proposal that would have filled in the wetlands.
Conservation Commissioner Kate Miller stated that "the open space area with the vernal pools is effectively choked off so it's pretty much completely fragmented so there is no connectivity with other open space. It would be hard to imagine any upland movement or any movement that could be sustained. ... While there is a lot to be praised by this proposal it is a bit disingenuous to call this protection, because I don't think it is in its current state."
The Conservation Commission voted unanimously to write letters to both the IW/W and the P&Z to convey concerns about this proposal as well as suggestions for improving it. The Commission verbally asked Mr. Wilson to consider, and will communicate in writing to the P&Z, suggestions to remove from the plan one or more of the lots that contain vernal pools and to consider removing or reconfiguring one of the lots that prevents connectivity between the identified wetlands and vernal pool areas with the open space set-aside.
Other concerns mentioned were the tax implications of giving a part of the land to the Town of Durham, the lack of documentation regarding a utility easement, a question about the proposed parking lot, and the potential impact on the water table and the existing wells and the possibility of future water shortages since the new lots will all have wells.
Previous coverage in the Eye:
Developer Argued Against Power Line, Citing Wetlands Preservation
Background information with links to application materials