By Pierre Comtois
GROTON — A plan to amend the town’s zoning bylaws covering septic system installation ran aground last Monday night when members of the Board of Health held a public hearing on the proposal.
According to board members, the proposed changes in the bylaws would simply “mirror” those already approved and adopted by the Planning Board.
“Ultimately, it’s about protecting the town’s water,” said health agent Ben Cutone of the reasons for the change.
“We’re just trying to protect the town as best we can,” added board member Susan Horowitz.
At issue are two proposed amendments to the zoning bylaws.
The first would bar the installation of “a sewer line, distribution box, distribution line, septic tank, clean-out or manhole” beneath “any portion of a public or private road, parking lot or parking area.”
The second proposed change would limit the number of gallons of wastewater that could be discharged by any facility larger than a two-unit residential building. The regulation would apply only to structures located within a Zone III water resource protection area as delineated by the state’s Department of Environmental Protection.
Cutone explained that the proposed changes were being offered in response to a situation at Stagecoach Place at the Four Corners, where a septic system installed for use by Dunkin’ Donuts and a day spa were placed beneath the surface of a parking lot.
The problem for the town, said board chairman Jason Weber, was that if anything went wrong with the septic system, necessitating its being dug up, the town might have to bear the cost of the displaced traffic and any work that had to be done in the road or right of way. In such a circumstance, it was unreasonable for private property owners to place such risk on the taxpayers, he said.
With growing commercial development in town, said Weber, such a scenario becomes more and more likely, making changes in the bylaws good planning.
“Well, I think the whole article is crazy,” said Richard Lewis, a local builder who attended Monday’s hearing.
It was Lewis’ contention that with modern designs and equipment, there should be no problem in placing septic systems beneath impermeable surfaces such as parking lots.
In fact, said Lewis, to his knowledge there has never been a problem with such septic arrangements in town, even for those using older building materials.
Local engineer Dan Wolf agreed, adding that if such changes were adopted into the bylaws, they would have the effect of killing any creative planning on the part of developers.
“Groton is one of those towns where I can’t be creative anymore,” said Wolf of increasing constraints on builders. “This is just another way for the planning process to go out the door.”
Wolf suggested that the proposed changes were actually intended by town officials as a way to restrict further development in Groton.
“I’m not going to go there,” responded board member Robert Hanninen. “But I haven’t heard anything at the moment that would change my mind on the language (of the amendment).”
“It’s just another (layer) of protection for our system,” said Horowitz. “I can’t see a downside. No one’s convinced me that there will be a major impact.”
Acknowledging the concerns of local builders, Weber suggested that the hearing be continued to give the board more time to consider the comments of those who will be most directly affected by the changes.
“I personally would like to do a little more homework,” said Weber.
Agreeing with the chairman, board members voted to continue the public hearing until their meeting of Aug. 20.