IWC Hears Residents’ Questions on Wykeham Rise Property Project

WASHINGTON — Given the level of interest in the proposed inn, restaurant and spa on the property at 101 Wykeham Road, attendance at the first opportu­nity for the public to speak on the project was sparse, with a mere 25 residents at the Inland Wetlands public hearing Wednesday, July 23, in the Bryan Memorial Town Hall audi­torium. What the group lacked in num­bers, however, it made up in sub­stance. Attendees came prepared with detailed questions for the applicant’s engineer, Paul Szymanski of Arthur H. Howland & Associates, and rarely strayed from the designated topic of the meeting: the project’s affect on wetlands and watercourses.

The Wykeham Rise project, which initially required 17.6 per­cent lot coverage, has now been reduced to 11.99 percent cover­age. It contains two main build­ings housing a restaurant, lobby and spa, as well as 54 rooms in cottages scattered around the site, a swimming pool and tennis courts. After Mr. Szymanski presented the plan, describing drainage, rain gardens, storm water treat­ment and runoff, the hearing opened for questions from the public.

Deborah Elderidge asked whether chemical fertilizers would be used on the lawns, plantings and gardens. The answer was yes. Residents had a number of questions regarding the septic system. Maryanne Clarke want­ed to know whether the existing septic system would be upgraded. Mr. Szymanski explained that the state Department of Envi­ronmental Protection requires rigorous inspections before approving the use of existing septic systems and has cleared the system in place on the prop­erty. Portions of the piping and dis­tribution box will be replaced, but he noted the system was installed in 1992 and allows for adequate flow. Two attorneys representing abutting clients questioned the capacity and restrictions of the septic system, recommending soil testing and analysis for review by the commission.

Other residents questioned the use and affect of porous asphalt, the construction sequence and storm water maintenance should the property ever be transferred to a new owner. This generated some discussion about requiring a bond from the applicant to be held by the town, possibly in perpetuity. Commis­sion Chairman Mark Picton said this would be considered by the group at a future date.

After the public comment peri­od ended, the topic turned to the subject of the last Inland Wet­lands meeting: contracting an independent environmental pro­fessional to evaluate the project plans and the property. Mr. Picton told the commission he has spoken with a “preemi­nent wetlands consultant,” herpetologist Dr. Michael Klemens, and would like to hire him to perform this study. Mr. Picton believes this infor­mation is vital to the Inland Wetlands Commission in its decision-making process. The commission has already engaged Land Tech Consultants, Inc., to review and evaluate the applicant’s plans, but Mr. Picton pointed out that the environ­mental information contained in the report is insufficient. This issue has, thus far, divided the commission members. Commissioner Charles LaMuniere opposed the suggestion at the July 9 meeting, and contin­ued to stick to his guns. He believes a list of questions should be developed for Land Tech and submitted to their expert.

Mr. Picton’s point is that the Inland Wetlands Commission is made up of laymen who don’t necessarily know what questions should be asked. “If we don’t ask the question of Land Tech, it isn’t addressed,” stressed Mr. Picton. “We asked for a review, including an ecolog­ical review, and got little back but engineering. I want someone who can ask and answer all the questions themselves. “I’m not criticizing the engi­neering review,” he explained. “I’m just saying we need a good ecological review. For a project of this importance, we have to choose the most qualified con­sultant.”

The cost of employing Dr. Kle­mens is estimated at $10,000, in addition to the cost of the Land Tech review. These fees are paid by the applicant. Commissioner Dorothy Hill said she would oppose hiring Dr. Klemens based on the price and the fact that there is are build­ings on the property. “It is not unspoiled land,” she noted. Wykeham Rise attorney Robert Fisher asked Mr. Picton if he would be willing to price other experts to see if Dr. Klemens is competitive. Mr. Picton replied that would be difficult to do, but said he would speak with Dr. Klemens to obtain more information on the scope of his work. Attorney Fisher persisted, ask­ing the commission to confirm that Land Tech is not qualified to perform the study to avoid duplication. “Land Tech did not go out and do a biological survey,” said Mr. Picton. “They didn’t choose to address the environmental aspect except in a cursory way. When you compare their qualifications to Dr. Klemens, we will be much better off.”

Commissioners Anthony Bedini and David Thomson agreed that “more information is better,” and would support hiring a consult­ant. At this point, resident Mitchell Solomon raised his hand. “What is the downside in asking a con­sultant to help out?” he asked. “In a project of this scope, with millions of dollars at stake, I don’t understand the concern’ about spending $10,000. “Are we afraid to get the answers? Is that why we aren’t asking the questions? I would like to know what a consultant says.” Residents in attendance appeared to be in agreement with Mr. Solomon.

Chris Charles offered his input. “Matthew Klauer has represent­ed this as one of the most inno­vative projects in land use.” Addressing Mr. Klauer, he added, “I would think you would welcome the opportunity to have someone like Michael Klemens review your work and tell you this is a great project.”

Attorney Fisher continued beating the Land Tech drum. “If you’re going to spend $10,000 of Mr. Klauer’s money, you should see if the consultant you already hired can answer the questions.” Mr. Picton stated, “I strongly believe that Michael Klemens will either endorse the project or help make it better.” Mr. Klauer joined the conversa­tion. “I only ask that this be a process. I want to ensure that if we do this, the consultant is qualified.” The discussion finally conclud­ed with Mr. Picton asking the commission to review and evalu­ate the material in the file and prepare to have a consensus by the next meeting. “Or else we’ll be having this discussion again with the applicant,” he promised. The Inland Wetlands public hearing will continue at 5 p.m. August 13 in the town hall Land Use Room.

By Ann Compton – Voices News

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