P&Z approves home construction, despite flooding concerns

After an extended discussion, the Planning and Zoning Board (P&Z) approved construction of a single-family home in a flood-prone area of Milford Point Road.
The 9-1 vote in favor of the house at 182 Milford Point Road happened at its July 7 meeting, following a public hearing in which the only opposition came from a nearby family.
The approval is for a special permit and site plan review for the house within 25 feet of the high tide mark. The board added the requirement that the house have a sprinkler system for fire suppression.
Architect George Wiles said he is the contract purchaser for the 0.27-acre property bordering the salt marsh, just past the curve beyond First Avenue. The city assessor values the land, which is located in the 100-year flood zone, at $139,000.
The Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) granted two variances at its Aug. 14, 2012 meeting by a 4-1 vote. One variance is for a front yard setback of 20.5 feet when 30 feet are required. The other variance is for a rear yard setback of 15.4 feet from the mean high water mark where 25 feet is required.
When he addressed the ZBA in 2012, Attorney Peter Melien said the property formerly had a two-story house that burned in May 1973. Melien told the ZBA the front setback variance was required because the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) wanted the house to be closer to the road. The parcel is a legal, non-conforming lot because it is 11,688 square feet in an R-12 zone that requires a minimum lot size of 12,500 square feet.
Speaking before the P&Z on July 7, Wiles said the DEEP has granted a permit and notice to approve, and also said he had ZBA approval.
Wiles said based on aerial photos, the former house was estimated to be 800 square feet with a 300-square-foot garage. The proposed house will have a 904-square-foot foot-print with a garage on the ground floor, and a 2,100-square-foot two-story house built on piers above that.
Wiles said he and his wife, Arla, are downsizing from a larger home at 5 Sand Street. Commenting on the flooding concerns, Wiles said the city has plans to raise Milford Point Road to address the flooding concerns.
“The plans meet the requirements of the Milford Fire Department,” said Wiles.
In response, board vice chair Jeanne Cervin read from the fire department's report, which stated, “The fire department cannot guarantee service in times of flooding and high tide.”
Wiles responded by saying the same flooding condition exists on other parts of Milford Point Road. He said the fire department can get through when streets are flooded.
“The fire department has taken a look and they feel it's okay,” said Wiles.
Board member Anthony Sutton echoed Cervin's comments when he asked Wiles if he was aware the fire department could not guarantee service at times of coastal flooding.
“Yes, I am aware,” responded Wiles, saying he would accept the fire marshal's recommendation of making a sprinkler system a condition of approval.
Matthew J. Popp, professional wetlands scientist representing Wiles, said constructing the driveway would require disturbing 100 feet of black grass, which will be transplanted to other parts of the property. There will also be a temporary disturbance of 75 feet of black grass to install the sewer line. Popp said the plan has received a tidal wetland permit from the DEEP.
Joseph Codespodi, project engineer, said water from the roofs and driveway will be directed into a rain garden, and will then drain into the tidal wetlands.
City Planner David B. Sulkis said the fire department is concerned about site access because of flooding on Milford Point Road.
Following up on this remark, board member Thomas C. Nichol said, “That road floods constantly” and asked how the fire department would get to the property if there was water in front of the house.
In response, Popp said there is a swale at the front of the house that drains to the rain garden.
Speaking in opposition to the plan was John O'Connell of 283 First Avenue, who said Milford Point Road floods every full moon for two days before and after. O'Connell disagreed with Wiles' remarks that flooding happens throughout the area.
“There is no flooding by Cedar Beach,” said O'Connell.
Jack O'Connell, father to John, who also lives in the First Avenue house, said the city's own Plan of Conservation and Development, recommends not building on Wiles' parcel. O'Connell questioned what effect raising Milford Point Road would have on the area.
“There are many days a month you cannot drive on that street,” said O'Connell.
In response, Wiles said he had sat down with the O'Connells to discuss his plans and reassured them, “I would try to site the house so it wouldn't block their view. I think that's the crux of their opposition.”
Board member Jim Quish was the lone P&Z member to vote in opposition. He said raising Milford Point Road would create a barrier for the water and would raise the water level on Wiles' site.
“I don't think that has been addressed in the plan,” said Quish.
In response, Wiles said the road is at elevation 4.5 feet and his property is 6.5 feet. He said raising the road would be a great improvement.
Cervin said there are three lawyers on the P&Z board and asked if the city would be liable “if a disaster occurred” if the board approved the application, knowing the area is flood prone.
Sutton and Michael Dolan said they are both trial attorneys and said the city would not be liable.
Wiles said, “We understand the risks of living near the water and embrace that lifestyle.”
Speaking in support of the application, board chairman Benjamin Gettinger said that Wiles bought the property, which complies with the regulations.
“I don't think we should penalize them for things that will happen in the future,” said Gettinger.