Board backs West Shore plans that least impact wetlands

Options for a relocated parking lot at West Shore Middle School, 70 Kay Avenue, will not include the “preferred alternative,” following a unanimous vote of the Inland-Wetlands Agency (IWA) at its July 20 meeting.

While school officials and neighbors supported the option referred as the preferred alternative, which would have been located in a wooded area behind the school, the IWA voted against that 41-space proposal because it would have had the greatest impact on wetlands.

Instead the agency voted in favor of Alternative A, which is a grassy field and a small wooded area behind houses on Nells Road, and Alternative B, which is located behind the cafeteria. Alternative A provides 25 parking spaces and Alternative B provides nine parking spaces.

The board took no vote on Alternatives C or D because these proposals have no wetlands and are located outside the flood zone, and therefore are beyond the agency’s jurisdiction.

Alternative C would create nine parking spaces along Kay Avenue. Alternative D would create 22 parking spaces, also along Kay Avenue, while reducing the size of the school’s field, and would include installing a new driveway onto Milford Point Road.

The agency held open the public hearing from July 6 to give the Permanent School Facilities Building Committee time to review its options.

Project engineer Donald Smith told the board at its July 20 meeting that the building committee had decided at its July 13 meeting not to offer any additional information or alternatives.

State Rep. Kim Rose (D-118), who was not present at the meeting, submitted a letter in support of the preferred alternative, saying it would provide 41 parking spaces outside the flood zone, and would maintain a buffer between the school and neighboring homes.

“The preferred alternative makes the most sense for the city and the school,” Rose wrote in her letter that was read into the record.

Agency member Daniel F. Schopick commented that the professionals presenting the different options thought the alternative plans better protected the wetlands than the preferred alternative.

“The impact on the wetlands is clearly going to be greater if you go with the preferred proposal,” said Schopick.

Agency member Stephen V. Munson said the IWA had to support the alternatives least preferred by the public and the building committee.

“We are upholding the statutes and we have the ethical obligation to do that,” said Munson.

Kenneth R. Cowden said, “We have a prudent alternative. We have to vote what’s best for the wetlands.”

At the July 6 IWA hearing, Smith told the board that Alternative A had no direct wetlands impact, but is located within a coastal flood zone. He said that Alternative B would impact 650 square feet of wetlands.

Smith said that the construction of the preferred alternative would involve crossing a wetlands area and disturbing 2,150 square feet of wetlands. Removing a culvert at the rear of the property would regain 266 square feet of wetlands. The proposed parking lot area is currently wooded.

Smith said that adding plants to the courtyard areas at the school and removing asphalt would reduce impervious areas on the school property by 2,000 square feet but the proposed parking lot would increase the impervious area by 10,000 square feet.

At the July 6 hearing, landscape architect Stephen Wing said the landscaping plan would include planting shade trees around and adjacent to the school, particularly on the west side of the building. Wing said shrubs and small flowering trees would be planted in the courtyard areas, which are now just asphalt.

Wing said most of the vegetation adjacent to the wetland area is comprised of invasive plant species, including Japanese knotweed, multi-flora rose, and bittersweet vines. He said these would be removed and replaced with native shrubs and trees, including sweet pepperbush, red dogwoods, and red maples.

The $16.5 million school expansion includes a dedicated art and music wing, an expanded gymnasium, a dedicated stage, new windows and roof, asbestos removal, and security upgrades.