Tentative plans for a cluster subdivision off Elm Street have prompted concerns for the health of the public drinking water supply, and residents in the area had plenty to say at a recent planning board special permit hearing on the project.
The proposed 16-lot Rolling Fields, a roadway with a cul de sac at the end, will connect with an existing subdivision road via a pathway. Both subdivisions back onto a large tract of town-owned land occupied on the opposite side by the Walsh well field off Gilbert Street. A river runs through the middle. With no sewer in that part of town, planning board members and some residents who have lived in the area for years were wary of the high water table, and the ability of noxious substances to travel through water underground.
The proposed subdivision is on land that has seen several failed plans already, and was formerly a gravel pit. Engineer Ralph Maloon of RIM Engineering told the board drainage plans had been drawn up to create a wetland garden within the subdivision circle to clean discharge and runoff with the use of plants that filter water, but town engineer Rick Alves had expressed doubt that the town could properly maintain it over time, so Maloon had redesigned the catchment area into a more traditional detention basin design. A homeowner's association will be put in place to be responsible for the pathway, and possibly the center detention area as well.
Planning director Shaun Burke told the board he had ongoing concerns about several aspects of the plan. In addition to the wet basin design, he saw some features of the land that had to be protected.
"There are not a whole lot of sites in Mansfield where there is a vernal pool, a riparian area, and an inland wetland," Burke commented, saying the common area that is part of the cluster design could be used as an educational tool for school students, and adding the large open area in the rear is big enough for a ball field.
Residents in the area urged caution. "I don't like cluster," said Elm Street resident Peter Leston. "I see problems with the central drainage area. This is going to end up a swamp. To say people have to maintain it is wishful thinking... The town would end up liable for the drainage issues."
Burke noted once the special permit is issued, it is a legal document, and maintenance of the drainage area would be included in it. "It's pretty straightforward," he said. ""Failure to clean it would be in violation of the special permit."
John Boyle of Partridge Lane said he had lived in his home off Elm Street for 17 years, and had seen many wet seasons. "There are well heads on both sides of the river," he said, adding at one point recently the back yards were so flooded he could take a canoe to his neighbor's house. Boyle said he personally likes cluster design, with its smaller lots and common open space. "We need to be responsible in our building, but we should not build on environmentally sensitive areas," he said.
Boyle passed out photos of his back yard under water taken two weeks after the April flood two years ago. "We have frogs like other people have moths," he said. "If you're going to do it, do it right."
Don Fioretti said past subdivision plans for the same land had come and gone because of similar water issues. "This has been going on since I came to town," he said. "Geologists came in and said the septic systems would leak into the town water. I worked for Clean Harbors - I know what chemicals can do. If the town wells go we're in big trouble - there was talk of putting sewerage on Elm Street to protect the wells."
Board chairman Tom French emphasized the septic system design must be approved by the board of health, and said all engineering plans must pass muster with the town engineer and the building inspector.
The project also will be presented to the conservation commission for the approval of wetlands protection issues, including how to curb the use of insecticides and lawn products. "There's nothing more dangerous than the homeowner on a Saturday," said Burke.
The special permit hearing will continue on March 28, and Maloon is expected to come up with more detailed drainage calculations.
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