Plymouth: Claremont Colony Place development embroiled in Town’s water controversy, lawsuit
Town releases “executive session” minutes of concurrent meetings of ZBA and Selectboard acting as Water Commissioners; more Open Meeting Law Violations Alleged
On Dec. 7 , 2022 the ZBA granted a special permit for “at least” 198 units in Colony Place; on January 23, 2023 the permit was challenged in Superior Court
Third Town consultant report in 3 years says there is not enough water for more development such as Claremont’s project in Colony Place
January 2023: ZBA Special Permit appealed: The lawsuit alleges that the ZBA decision violated the Zoning Bylaw. It claims that the Claremont Development is a residential development, not an institutional use, and therefore not eligible for a special permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals in the “Mixed Commercial” district. The complaint also focuses on the fact that western Plymouth does not have enough water to supply the new residential development, and the developers reached a secret deal with the Town for pump upgrades in norther Plymouth. The complaint also highlights numerous other problems with the project, including the fact that it lies entirely within an aquifer protection district and a Zone II wellhead protection area.
A copy of the draft agreement for pump upgrades is here and the final ZBA decision here. In exchange for “at least” 198 units on Lot 5A and 150 units on Lot 5A the developer will pay the town $2.5 million to pump more water out of our aquifer. The development lies in the Aquifer Protection Overlay District Area 2 – Zone II. The deal the developer worked out with the Town also absolves the developer of all other Town fees associated with the construction, and a 23% reduction in payments in lieu of affordable housing.
Plymouth’s water shortages caused by overdevelopment and poor planning cannot be ignored any longer. Additionally, the development lies in the Aquifer Protection Overlay District Area 2 – Zone II, where the overlying ecology should be left intact to protect the aquifer.
At the Plymouth Zoning Board of Appeals hearing November 16, 2022 on the 200-unit Claremont Development project the Zoning Board of Appeals said the water situation is at a “tipping point.” This should not be news to anyone. Since at least 2019 the Town has had warnings.
The 2019 Environmental Partners report for the Oasis 362-unit development off Home Depot exit told the ZBA and the Town there was not enough water. The project went ahead anyway and the water problems were ignored.
Again in 2021, Environmental Partners warned the ZBA not to approve another 350+ unit development – this time The Walk without addressing water issues. The ZBA approved a deal the Water Department with the developer for a cheap bandaid and the project went ahead.
On December 6th, 2022, the Plymouth Water Conservation Committee presented the Select Board with the findings of their two-year study, which concluded that continued growth and development was a threat to Plymouth’s water supply, and which called for water conservation measures to be implemented. However, the Select Board and the ZBA ignored the findings of the study.
On December 7th, 2022, the Town of Plymouth’s ZBA has approved Claremont’s 200-plus-unit, over-55 development to be located in Colony Place next to The Walk (by building a “senior living” project Claremont can squeeze more units on the lot and make more money). The Town’s consultant’s third report says there is no water. In a backdoor handshake deal, Claremont has offered the Town $2.5 million as a bandaid to fix the water problem so they can build their facility. The Board of Selectmen and the ZBA are ignoring the hydrologist’s recommendations and pushing for more development despite the water issues.
Colony Place is near the Franklin Marsh strip mine and proposed solar project that is most certainly impacting groundwater.
The three Environmental Partners reports demonstrate a need for a moratorium on large developments. At a minimum, projects in West Plymouth should be hold because there is not enough redundant capacity in the West Plymouth Pressure Zone wells to approve additional withdrawals. Instead of slowing development, the ZBA and Planning Board recently approved the huge new Hyandai car dealership near Colony Place in an aquifer protection zone – complete with a car wash and auto body shop that will discharge runoff into the ground. Things need to change.
The Colony Place development was shaping up to be a bell-weather case for how Plymouth seeks to address its water supply issues in the future. Unfortunately, Town Officials in Plymouth took the reckless route of drilling more wells over conserving water and checking development.
The Southeastern Massachusetts Pine Barrens Alliance is working on evaluating the threats from Salt Water Intrusion into the groundwater. Find out more here.
Plymouth should curb development and stop drilling new wells, and conserve water for the future by following the recommendations of the Plymouth Carver Aquifer Action Plan and the Water Conservation Committee.
Plymouth Water System Map
Summary of Environmental Partners 2022 report and ZBA hearings on Claremont
According to the Environmental Parnters Impact Analysis, the West Plymouth Pressure zone only has access to water from its three native wells, Darby Pond Well, the North Plymouth Well, and the Federal Furnace Well. However, the North Plymouth Well was taken off line recently. The margin of excess water available from the remaining two wells is so small that loss of any of the West Plymouth water sources during high demand periods would lead to a water shortage in the Western Plymouth Pumping Zone. The only auxiliary supply to the three West Plymouth Pressure Zone wells is the Deep Water Booster Pumping Station, located in the Northern Pressure Zone. However, the pipes that flow from this well are in poor condition and cannot support higher flow rates. Therefore, in order to get more water for new developments, Western Plymouth will need both a new well and an auxiliary pump for the Deep Water Booster Pumping Station, improvements that will cost the Town millions of dollars.
The Plymouth Water Commissioner made a secret deal on November 15, 2022, to allow the Claremont project to go through. Apparently, in a closed-door meeting, the developers agreed to pay the $500,000 needed for the analysis and design of a new well in West Plymouth, and agreed to pay 2 – 4 million dollars for a booster pump to be installed in the Northern Plymouth pressure zone. The Water Commissioner says they already have a location for the booster pump pumping station.
However, Save the Pine Barrens believes that Plymouth residents should have a say in how their Town addresses water shortages.
Residents must decide how they want to handle water shortages: allow unchecked development and keep drilling new wells into the aquifer? Or curb development and save what’s left of the water underground? The Plymouth Carver Aquifer Action Plan poses many solutions for a sustainable future for the drinking water source for all of Plymouth.
Installing a new well poses many ecological risks. Where would a new well be located? What part of the aquifer would it pump from? What natural resources would be affected? Will Plymouth draw additional supply from the Darby Pond well, and how would this affect the Darby Pond ecosystem?
And finally, why would Plymouth continue to support new real estate development if the Town is heading for a water crisis?
Plymouth residents are urged to keep attending Plymouth ZBA and Select Board meetings to learn more about the water deficits in western Plymouth and what is being done to address them. You can make your voices heard! You can express your concerns about unchecked development and water supply issues to the ZBA! You can tell them to conserve water, not pump it, and follow the Plymouth Carver Aquifer Action Plan!
Strip mining on proposed Claremont site in Colony Place
Earth removal at the Colony Place Development 2003
Earth removal at the Colony Place Development 2004
Colony Place Development, October 2021. Images courtesy of MassMapper.
The above images show the massive sand and gravel mining operation that took place prior to the Colony Place Development. This type of earth removal threatens the water quality of the aquifer that lies beneath these sands. Plymouth residents can have a say in how they want their town to move forward into the future!
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