Lewisboro proposes weakened Town wetland code

The Town Board proposed a new Lewisboro wetland code in November, 2016.  The proposed changes are extensive and sweeping.  The code as proposed is fundamentally flawed and detrimental to the protection of our lakes, streams, wetlands, and drinking water. The Westchester County Planning Department, the Town’s Conservation Advisory Council, and the Town Planning Board have significant concerns with the new law as drafted.

Summary of the major proposed code changes

The intent of the code changes sound reasonable. However, details count, and the way that the changes have been drafted into the law will significantly weaken wetland protection. Key provisions:

Buffer protection would be eliminated for wetlands smaller than 2500 square feet, if not a vernal pool

  • delineation of vernal pools is difficult & dependent on time of year – not likely to be done
  • many small wetlands connect with lakes and streams or form a larger complex that should be protected
  • small wetlands can get polluted more quickly, which can contaminate groundwater & drinking water
  • recommendation: only exempt man made lined structures with no inlets or outlets

Significant activities would no longer be prohibited in buffer areas

  • allows underground or above ground chemical storage facilities and petroleum storage tanks up to the edge of a wetland or watercourse. No new in-ground oil or diesel tanks should be permitted in buffers.
  • allows animal pens, chicken coops, and manure storage in buffers to abut a wetland or watercourse.

Would allow more activities in a buffer without a permit

  • Allows almost anything within 25 feet of existing building, accessory building, structure – which could be a shed, a wall, a dock, a fence. Sequential expansions allowed, including in lakes themselves.
  • This activity should be permitted only adjacent to the main residential building and for specific items such as generators, A/C, and heat pumps. As written it is far too broad.

Expands scope of administrative wetland permits which are not visible to the community

The proposed code significantly increases the scope of administrative wetland permits to include all residential permits except for new homes on vacant land or new septics, and many non-residential activities, without reporting or review. The community would not see these on Planning Board agendas or public notices, and no summary report would be created. This lack of transparency is a concern, as is the lack of opportunity for public comments.  Some of the issues with the administrative permits as drafted:

  • No limits on distance from wetland or watercourse
  • No limits on size of construction or amount of disturbance
  • Allows horses, goats, chickens and manure storage in buffers
  • Vegetation can be removed in wetlands, watercourses, and buffers, using herbicides, mechanical, dredging, etc. These are activities that lake users may want to know about and comment on.
  • Removes standards for approval or denial of administrative permits

Planning Board can approve a new or expanded septic system in a buffer, wetland, or watercourse. Septic system installation should be prohibited in a wetland or watercourse.

Violations and sanctions would move from wetland consultant and Planning Board to Building Inspector and court

  • Building inspector is not trained in wetland issues and cannot explain importance to court. If venue is changed to court, Wetland Consultant should issue violation and appear before court
  • Fines and penalties are reduced to not more than $250 from  up to $7500

If the process is the problem, fix the process, don’t eliminate regulatory reviews. The proposed code does not recognize that wetlands, lakes, streams and aquifers are under pressure from increased storms and higher temperatures and need continued protection.

See more information

Read a red-lined version of proposed new wetland code.  It’s lengthy (47 pages) so don’t print it unless you are ok with that much paper!

Westchester County comments.

Lewisboro Conservation Advisory Council comments.   While this 10 page document refers to sections of the proposed code, the comments can be read on their own.

In March 2017 the Planning Board submitted their comments to the Town Board. Their opinion joins the universal sentiment that the proposed changes should not be enacted and again asks that the Town Board identify the reasons behind the proposal.  Since the Town Board had previously said they would wait for the Planning Board comments before taking action, the next steps are now in the hands of the Town Board. We’ll be watching.

The official Planning Board document (12.6MB) includes a cover letter, the comments above, the letter packet, and the Planning Board mark-up of the draft code.  The Record Review published an article on the Planning Board report.

The Town has received many letters from organizations and individuals.  Organizations concerned about the negative impacts of this law include the Lewisboro Land Trust, the Westchester Land Trust, and the Somers Land Trust.  In addition to the Lewisboro CAC, the Bedford Conservation Board, the North Salem Conservation Advisory Council, and the Pound Ridge Conservation Board all weighed in.  As well as many individuals who supported continued wetland protection.  (Thank you!).  All of these letters are available in one large packet.  This packet became Appendix A for the Planning Board letter.

What you can do

Find out more and make up your mind about whether you support or oppose the proposed changes, and how you feel about protecting our lakes. Then contact our Town Board members.  If you think the proposed changes are wrong, tell them that the water quality of our lakes is important to you, and that you don’t want the board to weaken the protection of those waters and allow more algae and weeds to grow. You could also tell them that you care about your drinking water, and you don’t want the protection of that vital resource to be diminished. Or add other comments on your concerns or the law.  Be sure to add your name and address.  Thank you!