The Town of Warren has dropped a controversial plan to tighten up the regulations that govern development adjacent to waterbodies and wetlands, but the issue could re-surface again over the next few months.
Warren Town Planner Caroline Wells had been pushing since last year for two changes to the town ordinance that governs development near sensitive areas, saying they were needed to help comply with DEM mandates and help keep Warren at the vanguard of environmental thinking and protection in Rhode Island. But many saw them as too restrictive and several opponents had hired an attorney to fight them.
Ms. Wells’ decision to drop the changes last week came not in response to the opponents, but to internal changes at DEM that made the proposal unnecessary. However, she said that part of the changes she’d pushed for will still be considered when the town dusts off and reworks its Comprehensive Community Plan over the next several months.
The re-worked ordinance came as Warren tried to comply with state Department of Environmental (DEM) mandates that Warren’s residents, particularly in unsewered areas of Touisset and the Highlands, use nitrogen-reducing systems to treat their wastewater and build new systems no closer than 150 feet from wetlands, water bodies and streams. The regulations also sought to increase Warren’s buffer zone for all development adjacent to wetlands and the water. Currently, the buffer is 50 feet, but the re-worked regulations would have increased that to 100 feet. That was the issue that upset many residents, who argued that their property values would be harmed if Warren took “developable” land away from them.
Ms. Wells said she dropped the changes because DEM officials, who earlier had wanted Warren to pass and enforce its own regulations governing nitrogen reducing systems, agreed several weeks ago to take on the responsibility of enforcing that themselves. The about face made Warren’s proposal unnecessary, she said.
However, she still wants to pursue the increase in the wetlands development buffer. Warren’s buffer is less than some other area towns, she said, while the 100-foot buffer idea is based on “best management practices” and is also a buffer used in many towns in Massachusetts, and several in Rhode Island, she said.
As for opponents of the regulations, she was unapologetic about her reasoning for the increased buffer.
“I think the criticism was ill-informed and selfish. These are people who are saying my property is more important than the environment or the taxpayers in the future, who are going to have to pay to clean up the problems their developments would have caused.”