Town of Wilton, NH

Zoning Board Minutes

August 8, 2006

Voting BoardChairperson Neil Faiman; members Carol Roberts & Jim Tuttle; alternate members Andy Hoar and John Jowders.
AgendaBarbara A. Pinet and Leslie J. Thigpen - variance

Faiman called the meeting to order at 7:32 p.m.

Minutes — July 18, 2006

MotionTuttle/Jowders to approve 7/18/06 minutes as written. Three in favor. Hoar and Roberts abstained.

Case #8/8/06–1 — Pinet/Thigpen

Barbara A. Pinet and Leslie J. Thigpen have applied for a variance to section 14.3.3 of the Wilton Zoning Ordinance, to permit the construction of a house on Lot A – 64. Burton Highway, which would be closer to Mill Brook than is permitted by the Ordinance.

Faiman introduced the Board members and the clerk reported on how the case was noticed. Jim Tuttle said that since he is a Water Commissioner he may need to speak as a Commissioner from the audience, but since that would leave a four-member board, asked for a non-binding vote from the board. After some discussion, board members agreed that if he will be representing the Water Commissioners, he should disqualify himself. He left the board table and sat in the audience.

Faiman explained to the applicants that they now had the choice of going ahead this evening with a four-member board or postponing their hearing for a month in hopes of getting a five-member board. They chose to go ahead this evening, knowing that if their application is denied, they cannot use the fact that they had a four-member as a reason for a rehearing. Faiman then explained the procedures for hearing a case.

Barbara Pinet explained that she and her husband purchased a 19.81 acre parcel on Burton Highway from abutters Don and Dorothy Taylor in May and were not aware that it was in the Watershed District at that time. After the purchase they hired Meridian Land Services to do a site plan and discovered that they needed the house and septic to be 200 feet from open water. She said the lot is very sloped and right on Mill Brook, but there is a natural flat shelf where they were planning to build their house. They had a test pit dug 160’ from the brook before they bought the property and at 200’ after they realized the property was in the Watershed District.

She said in order to build the house 200’ from the brook, very large sections of slope will have to be removed and intricate retaining wall systems built. She was concerned that that amount of disturbance could not be good for the land or the brook. She said she understands the importance of protecting the watershed, in fact she serves on the Pelham Conservation Commission, but on a case by case basis, this particular lot, she feels, as do others who have looked at the site, that it would be better to leave the slope alone, if possible. She has also investigated a Presby Enviro-Septic system that the DES recommends for homes close to water. She summarized by saying that their intent is to do the least environmental damage to the site.

The applicant and her agent, Chris Guida, of Meridian Land Services, showed board and audience members the septic design plan for the house if it were to be built within the 200’ setback. On an identical smaller version of the plan, Ms. Pinet drew the preferred location of the house, about 150’ from the stream. Asked where the septic system would be located Ms. Pinet said more investigation would have to be done, but an alternative would be to use the septic design shown on the plan with a pump system.

Roberts asked if they planned to build any out buildings. Ms. Pinet answered that their only plan is to build a 1,256 square foot octagon shaped house with a 2-car garage under.

Jowders asked for more information about the Presby septic system. Mr. Guida described how it is constructed and said it has an extra tank so that ultimately the effluent coming out of it is cleaner than an average septic system.

Jim Tuttle, representing the Wilton Water Commissioners, said that the 200’ setback is there to protect the watershed from drainage, foundation drains and septic systems. Because of this the Commissioners would prefer to see the building and the leach bed outside the 200’ setback. He also said that looking at the septic plan, the differences in elevation of the two house locations didn’t seem that different.

Spencer Brookes, Wilton Conservation Commission member, said that the Cons Com has not reviewed the plan so this is not an official report, but in general, from their experience they have seen that although the intent may be good at first, 20 or 30 years down the line problems can arise. Maybe these owners won’t want lawns but the next owners will, then you start dealing with Weed ‘n Feed and those type of things. The closer it is to the stream the more potential there is for pollution of the stream. He said the septic system sounds very good but again, septic systems don’t last forever. Will the next owners put in a system of equal quality? He said this district is in place in order to protect the stream and he felt that the stream needs protecting everywhere. He was very concerned about varying that protection.

Alec MacMartin said that he was a member of the Planning Board when the Watershed zone was proposed. The point of it is to keep the level of activity away from the water course because it feeds the reservoir system which is the town’s backup water system. He further said if the board decides to grant the variance it’s important to address what happens within that 200’ setback. He wanted the board to limit what can be done, where it can be done, where the driveway comes in and where any other disturbance of that area occurs, because it’s important to buffer the stream as much as possible. He added that the board should be very specific about where the buffers are; what can be done within them; what can’t be done within them so that future owners of the property will know what they are getting into.

Faiman read a letter, dated July 27, 2006, from the Souhegan Watershed Association, urging the board to deny the variance.

Ms. Pinet agreed that the brook needs to be buffered and said that they would be willing to grant a limited cut easement within the 200’ setback area and would be willing to do other things as well. They are looking for ideas and suggestions from the town. She said that the septic plan doesn’t really show the elevations adequately to see the huge difference in the two sites.

Les Thigpen said that before buying the property part of his hesitation was the limited build area, and to find out that the build area may not be available is difficult. In response to Mr. Tuttle’s comment about the elevations not being very different, he said that 40 feet makes a huge difference, the land inclines dramatically at that point.

Mickey Pieterse suggested that certain requirements could be put on the deed such as only non-polluting septic systems and organic fertilizers may be used.

Mr. MacMartin suggested that if the board grants the variance, it record it’s decision on the deed so that the buffer language is in the registry.

Mr. Brookes said that some of the greatest polluters are pets, and if you move the house closer to the brook, then the… whatever dogs do outside is closer to the brook.

Faiman read sections 14.3.3 Setbacks, 14.3.4 Erosion and Sediment Control and 14.4 Prohibited Uses from the Watershed District section of the Ordinance. He then summarized the issues that had been raised:

The board has a request for a variance to construct a house in the Watershed District 150’ to 175’ from Mill Brook where the Ordinance requires that it be 200’. The applicant argues that the topography of the land is such that the proposed location is substantially by far the best location for construction and if you move the house outside the 200’ setback the construction becomes impractical or substantially more difficult and substantially more expensive.

He said the argument in opposition is that the purpose of the setback is to protect the waters of the brook and the 200’ distance has been set to protect the brook and any diminution of that distance is potentially hazardous to the brook. The applicant has made statements as to the kind of septic system they will install and their intensions to protect the land and the water quality and the counter argument has been made that you never know who will be living there 5, 10, 20 years down the line, and whether they will have the same intensions. The applicant did offer to place an easement on the deed to restrict tree cutting in the setback and any buffering and Mr. MacMartin suggested that any restrictions should be recorded in the registry. There was some discussion of the possibility of the board imposing restrictions if it chooses to grant the variance and that it could, in fact, grant any restrictions that it finds appropriate.

Faiman asked board members what they wanted to do. He said, in his opinion, a lot of the argument is based on information which is alluded to, such as, it’s necessary because of the topography but the board hasn’t seen the topography. The applicant has said that it would be significantly expensive to move the house to within the setback but the board hasn’t seen any specific estimates of what the cost would be to accomplish that. Given this class of variance, he felt the costs are a relevant factor. He said he wasn’t comfortable making a decision where very pertinent, relevant information is not here.

Roberts said although it would be helpful to have the topographical information, even if she did have it she wasn’t convinced that the district should be breached. The district is laid out for a reason and at the moment she felt that it would be difficult for her to vote for something that comes so far into the setback. Faiman said he had the same misgivings, wondering if there was a hardship, and said he agreed with her. Roberts said she was concerned about setting a precedent by granting this variance and was worried about ultimately chipping away at the watershed protection.

There was a discussion about how the watershed district came about, where its boundaries are, etc. The current district ordinances were approved at Town Meeting in 1992. The 200’ setback was chosen with the help of research done by NRPC.

Mr. Guida made the point that depending on how the land has been treated, some properties may need more than 200’ of setback to protect water bodies from pollution, but with the proper deed restrictions some may need only 50’.

MotionHoar/Roberts to close the public hearing. All in favor.

The board agreed that it did not have enough information to make a decision as to whether the application met either dimensional hardship test.

Public Interest: Is it in the public interest to deny the variance so that the 200’ setback from the brook would be protected? Hoar and Jowders felt that the septic system, at least, should be outside the 200’ setback. They discussed the foundation drains and roof runoff.

Hoar was concerned about setting a precedent. Intruding upon the 200’ setback, if done, has to be very well considered and understood and restricted.

Faiman said he might be able to be convinced that it was in the public interest to grant the application but not without more information.

Roberts said that protecting the 200’ setback was more important than a real or perceived financial hardship on the part of the applicants. She said this was different than your run-of-the-mill variance, this is environmental in scope and carries more weight.

Faiman said that the board does not have enough information to justify granting a variance. He said he could imagine that with more information the board could find it to be justified and he wanted to offer the applicants the opportunity to come up with that additional information. Board members agreed came up with a list of information that would help them make a decision:

MotionRoberts/Hoar to reenter public hearing. All in favor.

Mr. Tuttle and Mr. MacMartin made suggested additions to the list:

Faiman explained that the request for these items was not mandatory and asked the applicants if they wanted to proceed, They indicated that they did. Board members scheduled a site visit with the applicants and said it would be helpful to have the two topographical maps available for the visit.

MotionRoberts/Hoar to schedule a site visit for Tuesday, September 5th at 6 p.m. with a rain date of Thursday, September 7th at 6 p.m., and to continue the hearing to Tuesday, September 12th at 7:30 p.m. All in favor.

Faiman read a letter from Matt Waitkins, with NRPC, regarding Wilton Downtown Sidewalk Project. He asked that the clerk write Mr. Waitkins a letter stating that this matter is outside the purview of the zoning board.

A motion was made to adjourn. All were in favor. The meeting adjourned at 10 p.m.

Submitted by Diane Nilsson

Posted August 16, 2006