ZBA: No to fuel tanks
Town upholds wetlands buffer
RINDGE — Concerns about protecting groundwater and wetlands were the main reasons cited for denying a variance application for underground fuel tanks that would have enabled West of the Border on Route 119 to add a gas station to the convenience store business.
The town voted in March to amend the Zoning Ordinance to allows gasoline stations in the gateway east district which is located on the westbound side of Route 119, and runs from Butternut Lane to the Sepco station. However, only a handful of lots in the district have space for an underground storage tank outside of the 250 foot wetlands buffer, argued Silas Little, who represents West of the Border, at a Zoning Board meeting Tuesday. The parcel West of the Border is on is 16 and a half acres, and there is no portion of the lot that would allow an underground tank outside of the wetlands buffer, Little noted. The proposed plan has the tanks placed 125 feet from wetlands.
Also, Little argued, the tanks West of the Border would use are double-walled fiberglass, which are less prone to leaks than steel tanks, which were common until the 1960s. Double-walled tanks also provide an extra layer of protection if the primary wall fails for any reason, and monitoring systems can measure tank security. The 250 foot buffer requirement does not take into consideration the current technology’s ability to prevent alert people in the case of a leak, Little said.
ZBA members said they are highly concerned with protecting the town’s groundwater, as the population relies on private wells for water supply.
“The board has been extremely careful about wetlands in the past,” said ZBA member Joe Hill. “We’re dependant on wells in this town.”
ZBA member Marcia Breckenridge said she is torn between the recent vote of the town to include a gateway district that allows gas stations and adhering to the longer-standing wetlands protection ordinance. “Right now, the board is in a terrible position, because we have two conflicting ordinances,” she said.
Resident Tom Coneys pointed out that even if the tanks are safe, human error could come into play to cause a spill.
Resident Richard Mellor, who is also a member of the Conservation Commission, said that if the town intends to allow gas stations in the gateway district, amending the wetland ordinance might be appropriate. However, he added, that should be a decision made by the whole town in March. “I think it’s premature to jump over the town,” he said. “Send it back to the voters in a timely fashion for next March, and let the town decide.”
Others spoke in favor of allowing the tanks and a gas station in the area. “I think they make a great case for safety and a great case for hardship,” commented resident George Carmichael.
The board voted that allowing underground storage tanks would not affect the value of surrounding homes. On all other criteria required for a variance, however, the board voted against permitting the underground tanks in the wetlands buffer. The board found that allowing the tanks would threatened the wetlands and private wells, and defy the intent of the town’s wetlands ordinance. The property doesn’t have any unique characteristics, they noted, as almost all the properties in the surrounding area also have wetlands to contend with. The board did note that the size of the property is unusual and that there was no other place to put the underground tanks that would be less non-conforming.
Having found West of the Border does not meet four out of the five criteria for a variance, the board voted against allowing the store to add storage tanks. The business has 30 days to file for a rehearing with the Zoning Board if they wish to appeal. If the Zoning Board denies the rehearing, or rehears the case and again denies the variance, West of the Border may then appeal to Superior Court.
The Zoning Board will meet next on Sept. 26 at 7 p.m. in the town offices.
Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or firstname.lastname@example.org. She’s on Twitter at @AshleySaari.