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Residents Concerned About Development

By Nancy Arsenault

The new Hemenway Farm subdivision proposal for Walcott Street came under review Tuesday night  at a Planning Board Public Hearing with nearly 50 residents, mostly abutters, in attendance.
While there were some comments against the concept of a subdivision coming to this rural corner of Stow, the Planning Board heard more concerns about flooding and drainage problems that have plagued the neighborhood for decades.  Area residents expressed their concerns for what  additional building could do to an already precarious situation.

Though 65% of the 53 acres remains as open space, residents are still wary of what affect the 17 acres with new homes will have on the natural water runoff from the site.  Those acres are upland and, undeveloped, are able to partially absorb or slow down water runoff.  Once houses are built there, the pathways for water will have to be man made.  In a neighborhood that sees flooded yards, basements , cracked and buckling pavement due to rain and high Spring water tables,  taking away any land that can absorb water is seen as a problem to residents.

According to the developer, Mark White of Bentley Builders, his concept allows for three separate water runoff areas, directing water from the development along separate routes, eventually meeting up at the lower Hudson Road point that takes the water to the stream and river estuaries of the town.

The plans do not show water running in one direction, which would guarantee an overflow situation along that path. He feels that his water plan meets the requirements of the Planning Board and Town of Stow, regarding a PCD or Planned Conservation Development, a subdivision  that  maintains a large percentage of open space, with houses clustered on smaller lots, placed closer together.

Ernie Dodd of the Planning Board concurred that the developer’s plan, as proposed in this early layout, did seem to meet those requirements, which included a regulation that a development cannot add additional water runoff to an area than was there prior to its construction.  The plans show the creation of a large gathering basin at the northern end of the open space; a place where water can collect and remain, ideally being absorbed back into the ground instead of running into existing residential areas on Mitchell, Sandy Brook and Walcott Street,  or overflowing existing catch basins, according to the project’s engineer.

Though residents could see the plans for stormwater control on the  diagramed plans, they were not convinced their properties would not be affected.  One resident pointed out that an existing catch basin on Mitchell Road, designated as the flow route for one of the Hemenway Farm run off paths, has actually been blocked for years, a source of continual flooding for the Mitchell  Road neighborhood. “Looking to have the new street drainage come to that location is not a minor problem,” said resident Bill Howell. “ I have spent 40yrs trying to solve the problem of excess runoff from Edgehill.” Michelle Crosby, also of Edgehill, said, “I don’t want to see more water coming down off that hill.”

Bill Chiarchiaro of Edgehill added, “ The area is named Steven’s Hill, but it’s called Spring Hill, because everywhere you dig,  you hit water.  I hope they are going to make observations over different seasons and storm conditions before everything is finalized.  There will definitely be surprises. The minimum amount of studies required, is not enough.  This is a surprising area and deserves extra caution.”

While water runoff was the primary concern, residents had no real words of welcome for the new neighborhood.  Adding 26 homes – that will most likely attract young, mobile families – is expected to add about 250 car trips per day to Walcott Street, according to the Planning Board.  Residents pointed out that in some places, the road is only 12 ft wide, bordered by stone walls on both sides, with no room for expansion.  Bruce Morgan asked, “ I would like to know how the Board is going to monitor how this development handles the character of our neighborhood, the character of Walcott Street.  It can’t handle this traffic.”

Bill Chiarchiaro gained the support of the entire audience when he requested that the board not approve any “traffic calming” features like speed bumps to deal with the traffic. Nor should they allow a massive entrance sign for the development.  “A PCD is supposed to preserve the rural feel despite development. How are you going to ensure that this preserves the feel of Walcott Street as a nice country lane? They said they would keep one large tree  (on Walcott) to ensure a visual break from the homes. More than one tree needs to be kept,” he said.

Chiarchiaro also asked the Board to consider the impact of 26 homes and their light output in a relatively dark section of town. “All exterior lighting should be required to be full cut off, and prohibit any street lights,” he said.  As for the plans shown last night, “It looks like a peninsula of density,” he concluded.

Planning Board consulting engineer Sue Sullivan agreed with the neighbors. In her site walks of the area, she also saw the problems that currently exist regarding water runoff. “There is no one miracle solution,” she said.  Bill Maxwell asked the Board to consider ways that the developer could build his project in such a manner that not only wouldn’t negatively  impact the existing water issues, but could improve their situation.  “If we can all come up with a solution, I’m all ears,” said Mark White of his project. The Planning Board also agreed that concessions could be made by the Town that might encourage White to create a better runoff plan.

The Planning Board will continue to review the preliminary plans and will make suggestions to the developer regarding adjustments or changes before a final plan is submitted. That final plan, prior to approval by the Board, will also come before residents in a public hearing. The Board encourages residents with comments on the project to contact them, as the current review process could be extended as long as 6 months.