On Tuesday, April 20, the Lewisboro Planning Board considered changes to the town’s Wetlands Code in an effort to reduce a backlog of permit applications. Town Planner and Wetland Consultant Jan Johannessen recommended the changes to the town board and explained his reasoning at Tuesday night’s planning board meeting.
Mr. Johannessen explained that his office was inundated with environmental questionnaire forms submitted by residents, as required under the current code. In a process that usually runs two to three weeks, Mr. Johannessen’s office must review each questionnaire and determine if a wetland permit is necessary. In a typical year, his office reviews hundreds of these forms.
Mr. Johannessen said many environmental questionnaires involve fairly insignificant items like the installation of generators, air conditioning condensers and the removal of underground storage tanks, which make up approximately 90% of the questionnaires.
Under his proposed changes, an environmental questionnaire would no longer be required for the installation of emergency generators that do not require underground propane tanks, associated trenching in the wetland buffer area for these installations, and the removal of underground fuel storage tanks.
The form would also no longer be required for the construction of a deck or fence accessory to a single-family residence and located within the wetland buffer area, provided the resident utilizes hand-dug supports posts, there is no machine activity or grading, and the excess fill is removed or spread under the deck, porch or fence.
Mr. Johannessen said he initially supported excluding the construction of porches as well, but changed his mind because many porches have roofs that generate stormwater runoff.
Also, no questionnaire would be needed for the installation of sheds no greater than 144 square feet and located in a wetland buffer area, provided that no tree removal or installation of utilities are proposed.
Prior to hearing board comments, Mr. Johannessen said that some of the language in the proposed changes could be clarified, but said his intention was to speed up some of these processes for homeowners and his office.
Planning Board Chair Janet Andersen said the change involving sheds was written in way that would allow someone to install multiple 144-square-foot sheds with animals inside a wetland buffer, which is prohibited. Ms. Andersen said she would like the wording changed to specify that only the installation of one shed, under Mr. Johannessen’s conditions, would be exempt from a questionnaire.
Ms. Andersen said the change should also specify that the shed is subject to restrictions of the Wetland Code to ensure no animals are put in the structure and a maximum regrading of 2 feet.
Planning Board member, Gregory LaSorsa, said he disagreed with the single-shed limit because people putting in multiple sheds did not seem to be an issue. Planning Board member Charlene Indelicato, however, agreed with Ms. Andersen’s reasoning.
Ms. Andersen also asked for a 500-square-foot limit on decks or fences that would no longer require the questionnaire, as well as the condition that the deck could not extend over a wetland. Ms. Indelicato said she also wanted language added to that section to specify that the Building Department must verify that the porch is hand-dug.
Ms. Andersen made a motion to give her permission to write a letter to the Lewisboro Town Board that includes the above changes. All members, with the exception of Mr. LaSorsa, voted in favor.
The planning board also discussed a town board proposal to reinstate a temporary outdoor dining code put in place last summer to allow restaurants to serve outside.
All members were in favor of the code, but board member Jerome Kerner recommended that there should be a limit on the total number of seats allowed for indoor and outdoor dining. All members voted in favor of Ms. Andersen signing a letter to the town board stating they support the law, with a total seating cap.
Town board actions
The Lewisboro Town Board held brief public comment periods on both laws during its meeting on April 26. Only one resident, Adam Ochs of Vista, spoke during the public comment period on allowing outdoor seating at restaurants, suggesting the board expand the law to include all town businesses and eliminate the law’s current end-date of Dec. 31, 2021.
Town Supervisor Peter Parsons said he supported Mr. Ochs’ ideas, but was concerned that making the suggested changes would delay implementation of the law. Councilmember Tony Goncalves suggested the board revisit the suggestions as possible amendments to the law.
Town attorney Gregory Folchetti noted that the planning board’s suggestion of placing a cap on seating is not explicitly stated the law, but he said it does not allow facility owners to add seating and, further, it only allows proprietors to move existing seating outside.
All board members voted in favor of approving the law.
As for the proposed revisions to the town’s Wetland Code, Mr. Parsons mentioned that the board received many comments from the planning board. He said he wants the board to address the comments at a later meeting by incorporating them into possible amendments. The main priority now, he said, was to reduce the large number of pending permit applications in the Building Department.
“We’ve got a real problem in terms of backlog and this is an attempt to move it forward,” Mr. Parsons said.
Only one resident spoke during the public hearing in favor of the revisions. The town board unanimously voted to approve the revisions to the Wetland Code, and to accommodate the Planning Board’s suggestions as an amendment to the law at a future meeting.
Garden Center plan
Copia Home & Garden made a brief appearance at the April 20 planning board meeting for resubmission of an application for Sketch Plan Review and Site Development Plan for unfinished improvements to the garden center and expansion of the existing use onto the adjacent tax parcel. Ms. Andersen said the planning board initially approved the site plan in July 2017, and some of the work was done, but then the site plan approval lapsed. The applicant first appeared before the board to discuss the plan in 2015.
Michael Sirignano, the attorney representing Copia Home & Garden, noted that several approved items were not completed due to the pandemic and other factors. These included a new entrance with curbs on East Street and a top coat of pavement behind the greenhouse.
Ms. Andersen said that since Mr. Kerner and Mr. LaSorsa were the only current members on the board at the time of the initial approval, she believed further discussion of the site’s current condition and the planned improvements was warranted.
Mr. Sirignano suggested a site walk with board members, while stressing that the applicant was not looking to rework the previously-approved site plan. The site visit was scheduled for the following day, Saturday, April 24. Copia Garden Center will appear at the Planning Board’s next meeting to review the results of the site walk.