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Wetlands Panel Hears Controversial Housing Plan

The commission heard debate late into the night Tuesday on the proposal for a 12.5-acre site on Kensington Road.

 

About 40 people crowded into a small meeting room in on Tuesday night to hear a controversial plan for an 8-lot subdivision on Kensington Road.

Neighbors of the housing plan have questioned the proposal and raised concerns about whether the project would harm wetlands on the site.

The applicant, Carl Ciarcia, and his team of experts presented their plan to the Inland Wetlands and Water Courses Commission during the public hearing.

An wetlands expert for the applicant told the commission that there are two wetland areas on the site, one totaling 28,000 square feet toward the back of the property, the other totaling about 1,100 square feet and located in the middle of the site. He told the commission that the smaller wetland area is transitional and has little if any wetland soils. He said the area is really just a small, rocky depression that fills with water when it rains and which then drains off quickly.

The second area, he said, is a “bonafide wetlands,” but one which “barely qualifies as a wetlands from a soils point of view.”

But Dennis Kern, president of the Berlin Land Trust, which is an intervenor in the application process, questioned the wetland protection measures proposed for the site, suggesting technical changes that he said would help protect more of the site’s wetlands.

He also questioned the amount of grading that would be done on the site, saying he’s concerned that too much earth will be removed.

“This sounds like quarrying to me, not just leveling the land. If you’re taking out 30 feet … to me that’s quarrying and quarrying has an impact. They’re basically taking a huge amount of earth, maybe blasting, maybe not blasting.”

Removing too much material from the site, Kern said, would impact the hydrology of the area and could create pollution in waterflow that comes off the site.

“Down gradient, down Kensington Road, there’s going to be an effect of the quarrying. It has to go into … the nearest streams.”

Commission members asked the applicants if they had an estimate of how much water could flow from the site after the grading. Representatives of the applicant said they do not have such an estimate but could develop one.

“A calculation of runoff would be helpful to give some sort of idea,” said commission Chairman Michael Balinskas.

Kern said a positive aspect of the plan was a proposal to put sewer lines away from the larger wetlands on the site. But he told the commission that he and the land trust are concerned about the applicant’s plan to alter the smaller wetland on the property to make way for the homes.

“This wetland, he’s saying, is not worth the elimination of 2 to 3 lots.  We consider the removal of any wetlands to be a significant act. If it’s a wetlands, it’s significant. They should come in with an alternate plan and not come in and say ‘this is an insignificant wetlands.’ You can’t say you’re protecting wetlands if they destroy the wetlands.”

Neighbors of the site have circulated a petition opposing the plans and have said they are worried about impacts on the wetlands and whether blasting planned to remove rock would impact their wells.

Residents who attended the hearing questioned how close homes would be to the wetlands and who would own them.

Balinskas said the people who buy the homes that would eventually be built would own the wetlands and that some of the homes would be within about 100 feet of the wetlands. But he said the homes would be separated from the wetlands by hilly areas and other naturally occurring features on the site.

Robert Bird, who lives on Kensington Road, took issue with one of the expert’s comments that the smaller wetlands on the site is “insignificant.”

“It is, in fact, a wetland,” Bird said. “There is no ‘barely’ exception. Calling a wetland ‘barely a wetland’ does not diminish it’s impact as a wetland.”

Regardless of the smaller wetland area’s viability, Bird added, the commission is charged with protecting it.  

“I would ask this commission are small wetlands expendable?” Such small, isolated wetlands, he said, are extremely critical to the environment and the smaller wetland area on the site may actually be connected to the larger one.

Connecticut state law, he added, requires the commission to protect such wetlands.

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