Land Use

Condominium Project Proposed Near Scituate Reservoir Exemplifies Growing Strain Being Put on Water Resources

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NORTH SCITUATE, R.I. — A plan to build 18 condominiums on a 6.7-acre lot about a quarter-mile from the Scituate Reservoir in a town that relies on wells for drinking water provides a glimpse into the pressures being put on water resources — locally, regionally, nationally and globally — by population growth, development of open space and a changing climate.

Scituate Town Council president John Mahoney wants to build the Chopmist Hill Estates on a wooded lot off Route 102. Scituate zoning ordinances require a minimum of 3 acres for each residence, according to the town’s comprehensive plan.

Some 75 residents who abut the Chopmist Hill Road property or live in the neighborhood of the proposed complex have signed a petition opposing such a development within the Scituate Reservoir watershed — the reservoir supplies Rhode Island with 60 percent of its drinking water. Neighbors also have filed a statement of opposition to the proposed development with the town, and a smaller group of 14 has hired an attorney, Robert Flaherty.

These residents, who have loosely formed a group called the “Neighbors Against Chopmist Hill Estates Development,” are concerned about the impact such a dense development will have on the water quality and quantity of their nearby wells. ecoRI News recently spoke with four neighbors at a home near the former apple orchard that is being marketed for condominium development.

The four residents — who wished to remain anonymous, although a few spoke at public hearings last year and signed the aforementioned petition, for fear of possible retribution — are all worried that 18 two-bedroom condos in six buildings will stress the neighborhood’s drinking-water supply, increase stormwater runoff in the area and introduce more septic-tank leakage into surrounding soils.

The Scituate Planning Commission has given Mahoney’s project master-plan approval with conditions. Although those conditions haven’t yet been met, the Town Council president, who bought the parcel last March for $115,000, is marketing the property online as “DEVELOPMENT WITH APPROVALS and master plan IN HAND. Your chance to develop one of the first condominium complexes in all of Scituate.” The asking price is $850,000.

ecoRI News sent three e-mails to Mahoney’s address listed on the Scituate Town Council webpage but never received a response.

One of the people ecoRI News spoke with on Feb. 11 said he had to dig a new well on his property last year. The re-digging of wells was a common problem mentioned by area residents during project hearings last year.

During a June 21, 2016 meeting of the Scituate Planning Commission, about a dozen neighbors expressed concern about the impact the development would have on their wells. They claimed there was no way two to three wells would support 18 families.

A Cook Drive homeowner testified that many area residents consistently have their wells go dry. “August is not uncommon to see hoses running across the street as we share water with one another,” she said.

A homeowner with property that abuts the proposed development site noted that five of his neighbors have had to have their wells re-drilled during the past year and a half, telling the Planning Commission members that “you’re creating a burden on the underground aquifer. You have a responsibility to existing property owners and their wells.”

Another Cook Drive homeowner told the commission he has a 800-foot-deep well and if someone flushes the toilet, water dribbles out of the kitchen faucet. “… the pump guy has been to our house many times, he has tried all different things, and it always ends up the same way: we do not have enough water,” he said.

A Chopmist Hill Road homeowner testified that she has two wells on her property. The current one in use is more than 500 feet deep and recently required another filter because of black sludge at the bottom. Her first well went dry. She and her husband are the only ones who live on the property.

Mahoney’s attorney, William Landry, told the commission that, “We have every confidence, given the water table levels and the analysis that we’ve done, that we can drill wells that would work successfully. Do we know that a hundred percent for sure, no.”

Landry also admitted that the project doesn’t really fit into the neighborhood, saying, “We believe that we have a proposal here that is not typical for the local land use patterns based on the density of the area … It’s an area of single-family homes, but we think that the density bonus that we’re seeking is reasonable in view of the carrying capacity of the site.”

The project’s application was made under the Low and Moderate Income Housing Act. During last June’s Planning Commission meeting, Landry said five of the 18 proposed units — 25 percent — would be deemed affordable. He noted that Scituate is next to last — 38th out of 39 Rhode Island municipalities — in terms of providing affordable housing, at 0.85 percent.

The five-member board responsible for overseeing the town’s compliance of affordable-housing requirements has five vacancies.

The four neighbors ecoRI News recently spoke with weren’t concerned about the affordable-housing aspect of the plan, which they claimed Mahoney was only using to push the project through, but the size of the development — a 600 percent increase over what local ordinances allow there. They noted that Scituate’s zoning ordinances prohibited multifamily dwellings in this area. They said the parcel is zoned for one or two single-family homes, which they would have no problem seeing built.

They did note, however, they had a problem with Mahoney misrepresenting himself to the seller — a 70-year-old East Providence resident and a relative of one of the neighbors ecoRI News spoke with. According to a May 9, 2016 affidavit signed by the seller’s real-estate agent, and by a notary, both the buyer and the agent “verbally re-affirmed to me and my client … that Mr. Mahoney would be building only 2 single family residences at this property.”

Mahoney also asked the seller to subdivide the property into two lots, which she did, according to the relative ecoRI News spoke with. A few days after buying the property, Mahoney filed the condominium project application with the town. The 15-year Scituate resident was elected to the seven-member Town Council in November, along with three other Independent Men of Scituate.

At a July 19, 2016 meeting of the Scituate Planning Commission, Landry, the project’s attorney, said a test well was dug on the site that yielded 4 gallons per minute at 130 feet and 10 gallons per minute at 560 feet. No other test well was dug.

Flaherty, the attorney for the seven neighborhood couples fighting the project, told the commission one test well doesn’t prove there is enough of a well-water supply on the property to cover the project’s 18 housing units without impacting the water needs of the existing neighborhood.

“You don’t know whether or not draining that subsurface water to support this project is going to interfere with the wells of the abutters and whether or not they’re going to have sufficient water to maintain their homes in your town,” Flaherty told the board’s members. “It’s all well driven, so if you remove a lot of water from that aquifer underneath that parcel, you may be taking the water from the neighbors.”

The Scituate Planning Commission ultimately agreed, approving a master plan for the project application that required the applicant to have an hydraulic analysis of the site done. Neighbors said they are still waiting to see the results from such an analysis.

The other two conditions concerned a Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management resolving arsenic issues at the site, and a 100-foot vegetative buffer placed on the side and rear setbacks.

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  1. This really proves the point that some people remain strikingly ignorant and truly believe WATER is an inexhaustible resource. I don’t know it would take to wake people up. No WATER, no life.

  2. You can thank the State Housing Laws for all the low to moderate income housing developments popping up in all communities across the State. The laws jam these dense developments down any community’s permitting process and basically usurp all local applicable Zoning that would otherwise prohibit these developments, especially in our constrained rural communities where services like public water and sewer are simply not available.

    Couple that with a conflict of interest where a Council president is now marketing his own land development project and that’s just the icing on the cake. Unbelievable!!!

    Dense development is meant to stay in the urbanized communities. Redevelopment in the urban communities should keep these housing units for LMI there. They do not belong in rural communities where services are just not available.

    Now this guy’s engineer will develop a hydraulic/hydrology study, say there’s plenty of water, because that’s what he’ll be paid to do and engineer something that simply doesn’t work or fit in the community. Anything can be engineered, whether it’s right or wrong; question is profit over need?

    RI HUD needs to re-evaluate the LMI Laws. Local Reps/Senators should be moving more of these law changes to the floors to revisit how this system works, or doesn’t work in this case.

  3. I grew up in Scituate and I find it quite astonishing that people like Scituate for a reason, it’s country, it’s quiet and quaint, away from the city, yet these people that people come to Scituate for that reason,want to make huge changes that disrupt everything that is there and think it is okay. Personally, I really hate it when someone, John Mahoney for example, takes on an Authoritarian position and THEN…abuses that power for his own gain. I’m sorry, but if there is to be a minimum of 3 arces per residence, then what the hell happened to that? It is so sad when someone gets into a position where they think they can do whatever the cost, to anyone else. If a USA President can be impeached, I’m sure there is a way to get this guy out of there. Come on people…get on that.

  4. So basically, we all voted for change and ended up with a bunch of Town Council people who are just profiting off of us. If Mahoney were not president of the Town Council, this would not have ever flown. So much for change.

  5. Another question: What about fire sprinkler systems? Do how can you have enough pressure to run the required fire systems in a development that big?

  6. And with his cronie as the ZONING official Mahoney will get whatever he wants! The whole reason he ran for town council in the first place!!!!

  7. The rules are in place for the good of the majority of Scituate. Not all of the laws may be fair all of the time but most are there to protect Scituate’s interest and that is all we need to know. Is this in the best interest for Scituate and my opinion is ‘No’ only a few will benefit and one will be John Mahoney who just also happens to be President of the town council. He’s only been in office a couple of months and already there’s a conflict of interest with this deal. If you are in office you decisions should be "what is in the best interest of the majority of its citizens." A condo complex is not it!!! Maybe public office isn’t for John Mahoney.

  8. It is profit over the water rights of others. This guy is actually
    An elected official? We need
    To do a much better job permitting these type of projects. And to misrepresent
    To the seller that’s unconscionable

    Thank you for allowing postings

  9. I have been a resident of the Town of Scituate for over 50 years. People live in this town for the quiet, safe and rural life style. I just don’t recognize this town any longer and the quality continues to diminish. I don’t know how Mr Mahoney was ever elected, however the previous administration took the positions for granted.
    Mr Mahoney is using his elected status for his own personal business and make profits off the citizens of Scituate. Why do you think we have a 3 acre minimum? Why do people decide to live in Scituate? What WAS Scituate founded on? I have great memories growing up in Scituate, but unfortunately the Town is no longer what it once was.
    So disappointing that this person fooled the voters that put him in the seat he is in. Its up yo the voters to get him removed before he does more damage. Shame on the Town Council, Shame on the board that allowed the complex to be approved.

  10. All of the Scituate Plan Commission members who voted to approve Mahoney’s masterplan application were appointed by Republican Town Councils and are Republicans. In fact, all of the members of the Scituate Plan Commission were appointed by Republican Town Councils.

    Mahoney was not an elected official of the town at the time the his masterplan received conditional approval.

    Funny how these same people who are crying over the Chopmist Hill Estates project said nothing when the Scituate Plan Commission gave a developer approval for 200 apartments on the Hope Mill site (which is 32 acres). Both projects violate multiple Scituate zoning ordinances and pose environmental hazards.

    The problem is that Scituate residents turn a blind eye to project approvals and Zoning/Planning/Town Council misconduct that doesn’t directly impact them. They only cry fowl when they are personally affected.

    Scituate has long had a corrupt and crony filled Town government who blatantly flaunts town ordinances. Responsibility for the sorry state of Scituate’s Town governments rests with the residents of Scituate. Scituate residents’ narrow focus on their own selfish interests and blind tolerance of corruption/incompetence by the Town government is the root of the problem.

    • Whether Mr Mahoney was an elected official at the time does matter. It should have never been granted based on the town ordinances that are in place. In regards to the Hope Mills, its a hazard..period. The difference with the Mill is that there is some infrasture; i.e. Kent County water lines and hydrants. Either remove the building all together or restore the historical structure.

      The previous adminstration violated, ignored, and took for granted their roles in representing the citizens of Scituate. The new administration is far worse…and will once again put themselves and their personal profits first.

      • The new Scituate administration has not done anything yet. They have played no part in Chopmist Hill Estates. They have not appointed anyone to the Zoning Board or Plan Commission. The members of the Plan Commission, Zoning Board and lawyers for the Plan Commission and Zoning Board who gave approvals for Chopmist Hill Estates are all Republicans.

        Decisions made on the Hope Mill project in 2006 and 2016 made Chopmist Hill Estates possible and inevitable. All of the decisions made on the Hope Mill were made by Republican appointees who ignored Scituate ordinances and the Scituate Comprehensive Plan. Those reckless decisions made Chopmist Hill Estates possible.

        In the case of the Hope Mill, the Zoning and Planning Boards in 2006 ignored the Scituate Comprehensive Plan which states that the Hope Mill should not be used for housing and gave the developer a completely unjustified and unexplained 160 acre dimensional variance. In 2016, they ignored the fact that the Hope Mill site had flooded in 2010 and is likely to be flooded again and allowed the developer to install a 40,000 gallon/day septic system 100 feet from the Pawtuxet River and Hope Mill raceway even though the projects 2006 approvals required the construction of a sewer line.

        Mahoney saw what was happening with the Hope Mill in January of 2016. The town Plan Commission’s rapid and unqualified endorsement of the Hope Mill project inspired him to create Chopmist Hill Estates. That is actually what happened. I saw it with my own eyes. This is what the town records show.

        You can’t have it both ways. You cannot demand that the town government obeys town ordinances when you want them to and then give then a pass when they ignore town ordinances on matters that don’t affect you.

        This culture of arbitrary enforcement and disregard of town ordinances is the culture that the Republican Party in Scituate created and perpetuated. They are the ones to blame for the bad decisions on both the Hope Mill and Chopmist Hill Estates.

        According to Scituate Ordinances, neither project should have been approved. Mahoney’s administration can’t be blamed for the approvals for either project.

  11. I’m not for or against a condo project. They can be done tastefully and blend in so that you can barely tell when driving by that there are condos on there. Doing a project like this WHILE being on the town council may be another problem entirely. What I am against, is limiting someone’s project because their neighbors have dry or insufficient wells. If that were the case, many, many homes in Scituate would never have been built. I know lots of homeowners, throughout the town that have had insufficient wells for decades and even longer. It’s the nature of wells. The town (I’ve said this for a long time) should be investigating the process of bringing municipal water to Scituate. There are places in town where city water is at the town line. Less than 1 mile from the North Scituate village, where most of the wells are polluted because of the proximity of the septic/cesspool systems. An 18 condo project would not put the reservoir in danger. The project could be required also to have a water tank which would decrease the draw on the aquifer. You can’t just say….NO, you can’t build because my well runs dry sometimes. If you do that, then NO new houses should go in at all.

  12. People have to realize how important water is to a building project. If that water comes from a well or a water district. Because with out a sufficient quantity and quality of water the project can not be built. It would seem the small size of the lot could not support the infrastructure of the project. Why has the developer not completed the
    Hydrological study. These type of projects usually require
    Expert testimony from professional engineers. Is this
    Project really in Master plan status ? Or is it pending upon approval of the hydrological study.
    Developers like to find the cheapest lot in town then engineer the project around that lot.
    This is going to be a tough sell for the developer.

  13. From a public health perspective, building a condo complex in that area would be an environmental catastrophe. Once again, greed and cronyism rear their ugly heads. The person who is proposing the building of this complex has acted in bad faith during every step of the process. They should be held to the original terms of the agreement.

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