Value of wetlands debated  in hearing of expansion plan

Walmart seeking estimated $20 million grocery store addition

The Rindge Planning Board held a public hearing Tuesday night to gain input about a proposed expansion of the Walmart on Route 202. The hearing was continued until next month.

(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)

The Rindge Planning Board held a public hearing Tuesday night to gain input about a proposed expansion of the Walmart on Route 202. The hearing was continued until next month. (Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

RINDGE — A proposed fire lane access way and truck route at the rear of what could one day be a Walmart Supercenter on Route 202 sparked strong debate Tuesday night about whether or not the road should be allowed within a 50-foot vegetative wetland buffer.

Two representatives of Rindge’s Conservation Commission — Richard Mellor and Dave Drouin — questioned the Planning Board’s interpretation of the Wetlands Conservation District Ordinance, which calls for a 50-foot buffer around all vegetative wetlands greater than 3,000 square feet in area. Because this particular wetland is man-made and was built as a stormwater detention basin, town officials expressed varying views about the value of the buffer zone and the foreseeable impact of future water runoff.

While the wetlands ordinance prohibits buildings or impervious surfaces — those that do not absorb water — within the wetland buffer, a second section of the ordinance explains under what conditions impervious surfaces, such as access ways, can infringe on the buffer. According to the ordinance, streets, roads and access ways can be constructed in the buffer “if essential to the productive use of land not within the Wetlands Conservation District.” Furthermore, if the surface is impervious, water runoff should be diverted to an area at least 50 feet away from the wetland, the ordinance reads.

Walmart, which has proposed a nearly 43,000-square-foot expansion that includes a full-service grocery store, maintains in its application that a substantial upgrade to its stormwater management and detention system throughout the site negates any detrimental impact to the wetland. But at Tuesday’s public hearing, Mellor and Drouin both questioned whether or not the proposed access way is instrumental to the productive use of an expanded store. The question, they suggested, should go before the Zoning Board of Adjustment to see if a special exception to build within the 50-foot buffer is needed. Drouin chairs the ZBA.

“They’ve had productive use for more than 20 years,” Drouin said, referring to the current access way around the rear of Walmart that is not within the 50-foot wetland buffer. “This is a slippery slope.”

Select Board member Roberta Oeser, who serves on the Planning Board as the Select Board’s representative, said there is no ordinance prohibiting Walmart from expanding a current use. The expanded building would not be in the buffer and the ordinance allows for access ways there, she said.

Planning Board Chair Kirk Stenersen disagreed with Drouin that the matter should be taken up by the ZBA. Today, stormwater drains through catch basins on-site and then into the man-made wetland, he said. Although Walmart’s expansion calls for new pavement within the buffer, Stenersen said stormwater will still be directed 50 feet away from the wetland and filtered through a similar process. “It’s not going to change a thing,” he said.

Mellor inquired whether a rectangular building is essential to Walmart’s productivity. By rounding a corner of the building to bring the access road in and out of the wetland buffer, Walmart representatives said they would lose a potential 8,000 square feet of proposed new space.

The public hearing was continued to Sept. 3 at 7 p.m.

Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 228 or adandrea@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter at @alyssadandrea.

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