Group hires lawyer to fight wetlands regs
The group of 14 residents, led by former planning board member John Tattrie and Schoolhouse Road resident John Saviano, said they have hired attorney Robert Healey to represent them as the town moves forward. Mr. Tattrie said the group's goal "is to stop" changes to wetlands ordinances that they say could strip property owners of their rights.
"We don't want to see this change at all," Mr. Tattrie said. "We can't take a chance on it."
The proposed changes have been debated and tweaked for several months after first being introduced last year by town planner Caroline Wells. They would increase Warren’s buffer zone for all development adjacent to wetlands and the water from the current 50 feet to 100 feet. Apart from protecting valuable wetlands and preventing questionable development, the regulations will help protect the town's drinking water, as well as cutting down harmful runoff into the waters that surround Warren, she said.
Apart from the buffer change, the regulations would also mandate 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.
Ms. Wells suggested the 100-foot buffer several months ago during ongoing negotiations with DEM on the nitrogen issue, and she said the 100-foot threshold is based on DEM’s “best management practices” and is also a buffer used in many towns in Massachusetts, and several in Rhode Island. The plan has drawn strong support from the Kickemuit River Council and Save The Bay.
But planning board members and close to a dozen audience members at January's meeting questioned the documentation behind some of the town's claims at last month's meeting, saying they didn't have enough information to support a two-fold increase in the town’s development buffer.
The problem, several said, is that the 100-foot rule would apply to all wetlands in town, regardless of their location, sensitivity and susceptibility to pollution from nearby sources.
“It seems like this is one size fits all,” board member Brandt Heckert said. “I would say that in some cases it’s too much, and in other’s it’s not enough.”
“What I would like to see is a process that is not onerous,” chairman Fred Massie said. “In some cases, if we’re treating some wetlands as if they’re all the same, that would be onerous.”
That's what Mr. Tattrie said he and others want to see. He said he worries that passing the changes could harm the value of his property and others'. Mr. Saviano, who lives on Schoolhouse Road, said he would be personally harmed by the changes as they would cut down on the economic viability of his plan to build several house lots on wetlands-facing land he bought several years ago.
"It would be an economic hardship," he said.
The planning board did not discuss the regulations at Monday night's meeting, but last month asked that the 100-foot buffer be re-examined by the town before their next meeting. The board is expected to broach the subject again at its March meeting and until then, Ms. Wells said she will continue to work with DEM to develop regulations that protect the town and satisfy the DEM's requirements.