The Block Island Times
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Merkler-McAloon subdivision clears pre-application process

By Judy Tierney | Mar 12, 2013

The Merkler-McAloon six house subdivision off Payne Road and Mohegan Trail cleared the pre-application process at the Planning Board Wednesday night and is set to go to public hearing in April.

This was the fourth pre-application meeting on the subdivision (Plat 9, Lot 58), precipitated by the Planning Board and Town Planner Jane Weidman attempting to convince the developers to submit a flexible — as well as their preferred conventional —  design for the property, as required under town ordinances. At the initial presentation in July, 2012, Weidman said this project was the largest subdivision that has come before the board in a long time. She also noted at that time that the plan has a long road next to a major wetland, and encouraged the applicants to consider a cluster design, rather than spreading the houses out on their separate, though large, lots.

On Wednesday, attorney Bill Landry, who represents the developers, presented a new plan that he called a “hybrid design” combining the conventional lots with aspects of flexible design, a hayfield that will be deeded as agricultural open space, a change in the right of way to the houses, and a homeowners association, which had been recommended in December, to manage any shared utilities.

Weidman pointed out that much of the hayfield is still unprotected with the right of way cutting through it, and the houses are still laid out conventionally on three-acre lots. Landry told the board, “we do not intend to submit a flexible design. If we did, it would look like this. The board cannot compel us to use a flexible design.” He maintained the design is a hybrid, which the board had agreed to allow at the December meeting. Landry said if the developers were told to go back and draw a flexible design, they would, but would also not designate the hayfield as open space. The lots meet zoning requirements and need no waivers, he said.

Weidman said there is more that could be done to protect the house sites and features through a flexible design. “It’s not to make it harder for the owners. It’s to make it a better design. .... I see a conventional subdivision with a road in the middle of a field,” she said.

The impasse ended when minutes of the December meeting were read, in which the planning board had reached the consensus Landry referred to, in which they would allow a hybrid design. Though not pleased, the board voted to allow the subdivision to move out of the pre-application process to public hearing.

Board member Socha Cohen had issues with the right of way, and Attorney Don Packer said they could be addressed during the public hearing. Weidman told them that is why the board should have walked the property together.

Payne’s Harbor View Inn

Landry also represented Carole Payne in a request for a modification to a previously approved development plan review application for Plat 5, Lot 111, Payne’s Harbor View Inn.

Before the meat of the application could be addressed, two letters, one from Payne’s brother Clif Payne and one from neighbor Joel Noel, were read. Clif Payne’s letter, from his attorney Nicholas Gorham, alerted the board to his lawsuit challenging the planning board’s approval of a site plan on the property. He maintained that only the Zoning Board can give final approval. He asked that Carole Payne’s current request be tabled until a Superior Court ruling. Town Attorney Don Packer disagreed with his opinion, and said if the planning board schedules the hearing on the modification request two months from now, the judge on the case will have ruled by then.

Noel’s letter alleges that the survey of the property Carole Payne submitted is not accurate to his measurements and asks that a Class I survey be done for the parking spots.

The notice of violation previously served by Building Official Marc Tillson remains in effect, and he questioned whether the board can thus entertain the modification request. But Packer told him she is in compliance right now as the inn is closed. Tillson reminded him there are two parking spaces that need gravel to be finished, but Packer said they need to be finished by the time the inn opens.

Commenting that he had not yet seen Gorham’s or Noel’s letters, Landry explained the modification request is about the seating. Packer told the board they could schedule a hearing, but a Class I survey showing the building and the parking are where they should be is needed. A motion passed unanimously.

Septic galley drain fields

Wastewater Management Official Don Thimble addressed the Planning Board with concerns about possible failures from septic galley drain fields in the watershed areas of the island. That type of septic system, mainly installed here in the l980s and l990s, would now be prohibited because the level of groundwater is too high to allow for the proper separation from the galleys. There needs to be more than four feet between them, a total of 10 feet for the system.

Thimble’s concerns were limited to the areas designated as watershed, around Sands Pond, Fresh Pond and the Great Salt Pond. There are 64 of those systems around the Great Salt Pond, 16 in the watershed of Fresh Pond and three near Sands Pond. Since last year, he has identified 16 failed systems in which either the drainfield failed or there were leaks.

To identify problems, Thimble would like to do groundwater tests on the galley systems, which would reveal the level of the ground water on a property. That test runs about $1,000.

Acknowledging that price tag might be difficult for some homeowners to raise, Chair Margie Comings suggested giving people three years to do it so they can set aside the money over time. Thimble said there are loans available at 2 percent. Planning board member John Spier suggested having the tests at the point of sale of a home, and asking for some of the transfer fee be applied. “Watershed is critical,” he said.

Adding to that idea, Comings thought if a major renovation is planned, the ground water should be tested then. What constitutes major could become an issue, Packer opined, and Sven Risom suggested using building permits over a certain value as a trigger. Packer, Comings and Tillson all liked that idea better than a percentage.

Comings asked Thimble to bring a draft proposal to their next meeting.


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