More Rules + More Money = Better: Conservation Commission Recommends Higher Fees and Restrictions Beyond State Requirements

Comments on the Conservation Commission's recommendations of higher fees and restrictions beyond State requirements.

Over a year ago a survey with a record-breaking response from residents and businesses highlighted concerns raised by Reading’s overly severe Conservation Commission bylaws.  At the time, the Town Manager called for the elimination of local bylaws that exceed State required environmental protection laws and the Board of Selectman instructed the Conservation Commission to review local bylaws and eliminate all that were not  absolutely essential to protecting the environment in Reading.

The Commission recently unveiled the results of their year-long slog through the 50 pages of local bylaws and the results are in: more remains better.

The Conservation Commission is recommending the town continue to enforce the restrictions on isolated wetland – those wet spots not connected to a body of water -despite the state’s view that these are not environmentally significant. The Commission says they want to keep these to prevent “flooding,” which is a bit of a dramatization, given there are alternatives that could address their concerns but not require the law. But, that is a whole other story for another time.

Most concerning is that the Commission wants to increase the fees and fine that would be levied on property owners who have these isolated or other wetlands on or near their property.  

On one hand, the Commission advocates argue that the property owners are doing a service to the entire town by maintaining wetlands to help reduce run off from snow melt that could wind up in a neighbor’s yard or basement and increase town costs relating to sewers and drainage infrastructure. On the other hand the Commission wants these property owners to pay even more for permits when they want to make improvements to their property – especially if you are a business, whose rates will be even higher than those charged to resident, because, paraphrasing the Chairman of the Commission, businesses all presumably make money and can afford to pay.

The Conservation Commission wants to raise fees in order to pay for the salary of the Conservation Administrator and the time and effort the Town puts into enforcing local bylaws.  Keep in mind, the town already receives a portion of the fees paid to the state for these purposes, which the local fees are on top of, the Administrator position is now part time rather than full time as it was under the lower fee structure and the Commissioners are all unpaid volunteers.  It should be said, the Town Manager is quick to point out that none of this money flows directly to the Administrator or the Commission, the town uses appropriate accounting principals to manage the money, but the result is the same.

Setting aside all this feels a little like the fox watching the hen house. 

Here’s an alternative idea: if property owners with wetlands are doing a service for the entire community and the community needs money to pay for the privilege of such services beyond the property taxes they already charge these home owners, why not implement a “conservation tax,” on all property owners and provide a tax exemption for those who are providing the wetlands? 

One of the big challenges in Reading is that we want it all, but often don’t want to pay for it. Whether it’s a new school, a new library or a more restrictive set of local wetland laws than the state requires, the entire community should pick up their share of the tab or not expect neighbors to be happy when the burden falls on them alone.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Erin Calvo-Bacci October 26, 2012 at 07:30 PM
Well articulated Mike. It will be interesting to hear the response to the proposed tax exemption; I agree those property owners who are "providing the wetlands" should qualify for an exemption since they have restricted use of their property.
Rob October 26, 2012 at 07:47 PM
How about no new taxes, no higher fees, and the town stop letting town employees retire at 55 with taxpayer funded pensions. That would equal more money for the town.
Bob October 26, 2012 at 10:23 PM
Another un-informed taxpayer shooting from the hip. First all pensions are funded by the EMPLOYEES...Yes the employees fund their pension...13 to 14 % out of their check every week which then gets invested, so the taxpayers pay NADA...ZERO towards a town employee pension...Get your facts straight before you shoot off your mouth next time.
Karl Weld October 27, 2012 at 12:58 AM
Then explain this from the FY12 budget: Retirement ($3,097,986; +3.5%): Due to a previous decline in the investment value of retirement assets, the Retirement Board voted a larger than usual increase of +4.5% to the annual contribution required. Notice ANNUAL contribution. That's from the taxpayers, not employees. They only fund PART of their retirement. If you retire and get 80% of your pay in pension and you only contributed 13-14% how do you fund the rest? Taxpayers.
Karl Weld October 27, 2012 at 01:00 AM
Also, if employees fully fund their retirement, how come we're told that there is a $30 million UNfunded pension liability that needs to be fully funded, according to state law, by 2040?
John October 27, 2012 at 01:16 AM
It's like clockwork, any time a story comes out re: one of Mr. Weld's pet peeves (demo delay, public employees vs private sector employees, teaparty vs rational thinkers, pulling papers & pulling out, etc), he's gonna come on here and spew his hatred and usually supplies us all with his color red propaganda. Well rest assured all, this guy is a greedy, self-centered fraud, have received the low-down from many around town. I pray that some day you follow through with your threat of running for office, what a slaughter we would all have the priviledge of witnessing.
Karl Weld October 27, 2012 at 11:24 AM
So it's ok for Bob to berate another poster, calling him uninformed and shooting from the hip. Well, it turns out that Bob is the one uninformed, or rather trying to misinform people. Taxpayers ARE kicking in $3 million a year for employee retirement. Facts are inconvenient things aren't they John. Like the fact that you never have a counter argument, just some weird obsession with me. It's very obvious that you disagree with my point of view, just as I disagree with you. The difference between us though is you're attacking me, while I'm dismantling your positions. Your policy seems to be that if you can't win the argument attack the other guy's integrity and reputation. Greedy, self-centered fraud who volunteers my time as a Town Meeting Member and member of the Economic Development Committee, volunteered on the Street Faire Committee, helped the Rotary set up a website for their Taste of Metro North fundraiser and is working toward getting a Center for the Arts developed in this town. What do you do for the Town John?
Bobbie Botticelli October 27, 2012 at 12:48 PM
To Erin's point, not only does the homeowner have restricted use but in many cases this useless restriction greatly affects the value and marketability of the home
Bobbie Botticelli October 27, 2012 at 12:53 PM
To Erin's point,not only does the property owner have restricted use but in many cases this useless restriction greatly affects the value and marketability of the property.
David Mancuso October 27, 2012 at 01:12 PM
The nice thing about Mr. Gordon's article is that is suggests an alternative solution. He's not just saying "no." Agree or disagree with it, the idea that the town should not essentially "double tax" property owners by making them pay property tax and additional fees when "isolated" wetlands on their property provide what the Conservation Commission says is a service to the entire community. In theory, property tax is supposed to cover the property owner's obligation to support the needs of government. Why some homeowners and businesses have an additional burden placed on them for providing a service to the community does seem questionable. It's not a "tea party," concept, unless of course you mean that this legal intent for purpose of property taxes dates back to our colonial period. Based on what I heard at the recent public hearing on the Conservation Commission's response to the Selectman pointed out in Mr. Gordon's article, they have some more work to do if thy want to reflect the will of the entire community. Hopefully the Commission's yet to be released written answers to the questions asked on the public record at the hearing will shed light on their willingness to listen.
Jean October 28, 2012 at 12:09 PM
The Conservation Commission has spent a year NOT doing what the Selectmen asked them to do, get in alignment with the State regulations. So the truth finally comes out, it's not about protecting the environment, it's about generating revenue and making property owners who have drainage ditches (aka isolated wetlands) on their property not only provide a service to the community but pay extra to improve their home and yard. This whole "review process" has been nothing but a charade. I hope the Town Meeting Members see it as such and vote to eliminate the local bylaws and use the State regulations to oversee the real wetlands in town.
Erin Halprin October 28, 2012 at 10:17 PM
Erin Halprin October 28, 2012 at 10:41 PM
For the past 7 years my husband I have lived in a house that has been in his family for over 40 years. The house was built rock solid, and until 5 years ago there were never any problems with the basement flooding or our yard not draining properly. We abut wetlands, and have some wetlands on our rear property. 5 years ago our neighbor built an addition, and filled in a lot of wetland on their property, creating havoc for us. We constantly deal with a flooded basement now. Their action on their property directly effects my property and the livabilty, and value, of my home. Personally, I am grateful for the members of the Conservation Commission, and all that they do. I have heard presentations by them on several occasions, and agree with the added regulations that they support. I know alot of people agree. Members of Making Reading Better argue for property owner rights above everything else. Unless of course, it's a MBR member's neighbor who is doing something undesirable, then it's all about stopping that neighbor, screw that neighbor's rights. About two years ago a homeowner on Main St. waned to sell his house to a developer (sounds OK, MBR, doesn't it? You support a property owner's right to sell to a developer, right?) And while the plan presented maximized the large lot of land and would have been profitable, MBR members (neighbors) took the charge to stop the development, appealing to the Selectmen and Town Hall to stop the 40B development.
Erin Halprin October 28, 2012 at 10:49 PM
I'm glad that the development was stopped. But I wonder why some, who are so against any regulations that they claim take away property owner rights, were so eager to stop this development. Was it because it might have had an effect on their property and property's value? (Conservation Committee argues this point sometime.) Was it because they didn't think it appropriate? So who is the arbiter of appropriateness now, MBR? Did the neighbors offer to compensate the homeowner for lost revenue? Or a clear case of NIMBYism? There is a small but too vocal minority in this town saying "don't tell me what I can do." However, they are more than willing to tell others what they can and can't do if it effects them personally and they don't like it. This is the worst type of civic involvement.
John Carpenter October 29, 2012 at 12:11 PM
Ms. Halprin - I'm sure many citizens are concerned about a failure of the Conservation Commission to follow its own bylaws and regs (and their role regarding the state regs), in the case you cite of your neighbor's addition and filling-in wetlands. Can you be more specific about the location of the property, and whether a permit had been granted? Also (since we all see the "Mass D.E.P. Number ..." signs on sites where dirt is being moved, what part of that neighbor's action was not covered by the state wetlands protection act? Also, that was a time when we had a full-time Conservation Administrator - what did she do to stop the filling of wetlands? Was it really wetlands? Very sorry to hear about your basement water, anyway. That's a frustrating problem, no matter what the cause. By the way, the Town cannot stop a 40B development - it's in the State's jurisdiction. As a town we found that out with the Addison-Wesley property.
Jean October 29, 2012 at 12:24 PM
Erin, I belive Mr Gordon, the author of this article, was commenting specifically about isolated wetlands, and in Reading this primarily means areas created on private property due to poor drainage. He's also thinking creatively and making a suggestion on taxes that acknowledge the need and use for this land to be used as drainage, not suggesting that we fill in the wetlands. Not sure what your attack on this MRB group is all about??
David Mancuso October 29, 2012 at 12:47 PM
Erin, If we need to improve our building codes or related engineering standards to prevent unfortunate situations like yours, then we shouldn't hesitate a second. Let's get it right for everyone. With all due respect and concern for your personal situation, your post points out that the current restrictive bylaws do not effectively serve the purpose they claim to serve. You are also right to point out that local Conservation bylaws have become as much "anti-development" laws as they have environmental protection laws that get pulled out to stop things from happening rather than making things happen in the best possible way for all involved. Personally, I agree that the Conservation Commission works hard and I appreciate their work too. I also agree that neighbors need to look out for the well-being of each other rather than being NIMBY's.
Bobbie Botticelli October 29, 2012 at 01:01 PM
Erin I am so confused by your comments specif;ically with regard to MRB. I think you are possibly misinformed as to our purpose and goals. WE DO NOT support individual issues for our residents or business owners rather we support and attempt to enhance the betterment of the entire community. I have been involved with MRB since its inception and assure you that the issue you reference on Main St was never even discussed but us It is a private.issue and as stated not part of our agenda We as residents/business owners of Reading certainly all have the right to champion our individual causes but that has no reflection on.MRB. The issue of isolated wetlands is a town wide issue not an individual one. .The confusion on this misused bylaw is that it affects the entire community whether your.property.abuts it or not. One example is the increased mosquito population encouraging more.mosquito.born diseases Erin, we need to set aside the ME attitude and strive for the WE attitude. I welcome discussing.thid with
Bobbie Botticelli October 29, 2012 at 01:08 PM
Oops my fingers have a mind of their own. and prematurely sent my.comment. Erin.I'd welcome a discussion with you re this matter Thanks for commenting and hopefully my response has helped to.clear things up
Erin Halprin October 29, 2012 at 03:27 PM
Mr. Carpenter, Your comments do not make sense regarding my experience with the conservation regulations. And what does Addison-Wesley have to do with 40B development? Are you under the mistaken opinion that the development there is 40B? It is not.
Rob October 29, 2012 at 06:34 PM
Bob, you're a moron if you believe that. Think about it. You work for 30 years and pay 13-14% of your salary. Then you retire and get 80% of your highest salary for another 30 years. If that's not straightforward enough for you, look at the town budget. Don't believe everything your union tells you.
Rob October 29, 2012 at 06:37 PM
I'm sure John has some no-show town job that his uncle got him.
Erin Calvo-Bacci October 29, 2012 at 10:22 PM
Erin in reagards to 40B there are apartments that are designated for 40B http://www.affordablehomesreading.com/upload/RW%20%20AHR%20(REG%20AGREMT)%20%203-9.12.pdf Unfortantely for Reading in regards to revenue, that project is a great example of Economic Growth, not Economic Development which the Town really needs. In regards to your experience with conservation regulations can you help me understand you issues with conservation more clearly? I certainly respect open conversation, but I admit I'm not always a fan of the public dialogue on social media so I'm happy to have a private conversation. Thank you in advance!
Erin Halprin October 30, 2012 at 12:58 AM
Erin, Pulte Homes/Addison Wesley is NOT a 40B development. There are NO 40B apartments there. 40B refers to Mass General Law chapter 40 section B. It does not mean "affordable housing." (Read the document you reference, pg. 3.) There are several ways to create affordable housing under MGL. The Addison Wesley development is a 40R development (MGL 40R), smart growth development. 40R development is very different from 40B development, although both create affordable housing. Towns are required to have a certain number of affordable housing units, and by adding to them through 40R, towns can ward off undesirable 40B developments. That is what the town did with the undesirable 40B that almost was developed on Main St. (Yes, Mr. Carpenter, towns can do that.) Perhaps you think there could have been a better revenue source on that site (I disagree, the property was rezoned twice to suit developers), but it is because of Addison Wesley/Pulte Homes that those Main St. neighbors were spared the 40B in their neighborhood. I have no issues with the current conservation regulations, (except when they are bypassed.) I understand them and understand the purpose they serve, and don't mind my property being under restrictions, because I know how the bylaws work and the importance of them. I have a problem with people who wish to dismantle regulations without understanding the results of those actions.
Erin Halprin October 30, 2012 at 01:21 AM
My mistake, 40B and 40R are two separate chapters in MGL. Have you actually ever read the laws? They are very informative. Perhaps you should inform yourself more before you correct another person (incorrectly) publicly. www.malegislature.gov/Laws/GeneralLaws/PartI/TitleVII/Chapter40r
Erin Calvo-Bacci October 31, 2012 at 01:18 AM
Thank you for sharing and informing Erin, I will read it. In regards to bypassing conservation regulations, is that what happened in your neighborhood? If so, that it is certainly a shame, not fair and no wonder you feel put out.


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