April 29, 2016 09:13PM
By CATHERINE HEWITT
Sun Staff Writer
CHARLESTOWN — The Planning Commission approved the preliminary plan of Cockumpaug Woods, a minor subdivision, at a public hearing Wednesday.
The proposed 5-lot subdivision will be carved from a 37-acre parcel owned by Donald W. Jackson, Principal of Jackson Surveying in Charlestown.
To the Narragansett Tribe, Cockumpaug refers to “School House Pond” or “Long Pond” where the Christian missionaries began construction of a schoolhouse about 1765, said Charee Jackson, principal engineer at Jackson Surveying.
The property includes 1,200 feet of frontage on King’s Factory Road near the intersection of Prosser Trail and is bordered by Narragansett Indian tribal land on the eastern and northern edges. The northern 14 acres of the property are wetlands.
The project includes four two-acre lots fronting the road and a fifth lot comprises the remaining 355 feet of road frontage and, at 29 acres, is substantially larger than the other four because it extends behind the other four lots to back of the site.
In the pre-application hearing in January, Town Planner Jane Weidman objected to the plan because it had been presented in 2014, albeit by a separate party, as a major subdivision, showing eight lots.
By presenting a plan with five lots, the project qualified as a minor subdivision, which entailed a simpler two-phase review. A project of six lots or more is defined as a major subdivision and requires a more extensive three-phase review.
In her comments at the January meeting, Weidman said that while the project appeared to contain five lots, “there almost certainly will be a follow-up proposal to further subdivide” the 29-acre lot; she suggested that Jackson resubmit the proposal as a major subdivision.
Jackson claimed that the commission was treating him unfairly because of the previous application and asked for legal clarification.
Subsequently, Town Solicitor Peter Ruggerio determined that the town ordinance did not require Jackson to provide a plan for the undeveloped acreage, which allowed Jackson to submit the project as a subdivision plan.
Weidman also met with Jackson to iron out some of the details of the application, which included reconfiguring the five lots so that the driveways will have fewer curb cuts and allowed for smoother expansion if and when more lots are added.
At Wednesday’s meeting, Jackson said that the project had received R.I. Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits that covered single family residential properties from one to five acres and required minimal stormwater mitigation practices.
Planning Commission Chair Ruth Platner said that once the project expands beyond five lots, it will require a more comprehensive RIPDES permit.
“This particular permit is for the low-key development that you have now,” she said. “If you were to add a road, if you were to add more lots, it will look at the cumulative impact and you may have to have extra treatment — they’re going to look at it as one big subdivision, not two minors.”
Platner said that the project falls under new DEM rules that are more protective of the environment, including more restrictive “Limits of Disturbance,” which are boundaries within a property where all construction, landscaping, and grading must be confined; of concern was the long term enforcement of LOD rules, which could be a problem as properties changed hands over time.
“These new rules from DEM about low-impact development and limits of disturbance appear to provide a lot more protection and what we’re struggling with is how to keep that knowledge in the homeowner and future homeowners that they have these limits,” Platner said. “It’s certainly better than a regular lot where someone goes in and clears all the trees — that isn’t allowed — this is a step better than what you would have seen in a past subdivision.”
Abutter John Lovoy said he was worried about the project’s potential impact on his property’s well and that if there were problems, he’d have no legal recourse.
Jackson said that her firm was required to show a 200 foot clearance from septic systems to any existing well and that when she checked the area, she hadn’t noticed Lovoy’s well near the project’s periphery.
Lovoy wanted proof that the project was adhering to the 200 foot rule and Jackson said he would come to Lovoy’s property the next morning to measure the distance from the nearest proposed septic to Lovoy’s well.
After further discussion, the commission voted unanimously to approve the preliminary plan of Cockumpaug Woods and agreed that final approval would be done administratively.
Next month, the commission will meet only on May 18th and has cancelled its May 4 and May 25 meetings.