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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.

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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