By Sarah Bonanno
The Mount Pleasant Planning Board unexpectedly announced Monday night that the public hearing for former state Supreme Court justice Francis Nicolai’s controversial application to build a house in town wetlands buffer had been adjourned.
Steve Basini of Petruccelli Engineering, who is representing the applicant, said resumption of the hearing was canceled because his client must obtain a variance from the zoning board of appeals to allow him to construct the house in the buffer and without the required setback. Once Nicolai obtains the variance, the hearing may resume before the planning board on his application. No timeline was given for when the matter may return to the planning board.
A group of neighboring residents who have opposed Nicolai’s efforts to develop the 1.43 acres at Leroy Street and Chestnut Terrace arrived at the July 20 planning board meeting before the adjournment announcement.
“A large part of the community rallied, we have 10 people here,” resident Carmel Promisel said after the public hearing was unexpectedly adjourned. “We didn’t expect [the adjournment], we were surprised and we’re wondering what the next steps are.”
In the latest application, Nicolai has reduced his proposal from a multi-lot project to a single-family house. The house will sit closer to the road on the wetlands buffer to preserve the existing 288 square feet of wetlands on the property.
In addition to moving the house out of the wetlands, the application includes proposals to replace invasive species with native wetland species.
Not mapped as wetlands until March 1980, according to town records, Nicolai purchased the property in 1979. Once declared as wetlands, however, the property fell under regulations passed in 1976, which helps to preserve wetlands.
Over the past three decades, Nicolai has submitted several applications to the town to develop his land. Since his first application in 1984, neighboring residents have fought to protect the wetlands from development, citing environmental concerns.
Despite efforts to mitigate environmental impact, neighbors continue to oppose the application by raising concerns to the planning board.
Residents charged that Nicolai has failed to maintain his property in accordance with town code, claiming that the wetlands have been used as a dumping ground in the past and includes debris left by previous owners. The neighbors want the planning board to defer any discussion of developing the land until Nicolai cleans up the property.
Residents also cited two flaws in the building plan: a pipe that would flow through a retaining wall and deposit storm water and runoff into the wetlands and the proposal to build in the buffer. The buffer filters sediment and protects the wetlands.
Basini, who was unaware of the pipe, did not comment on the environmental issues raised by the neighbors. He said various experts have already addressed their issues.
The neighbors, however, plan to continue fighting Nicolai’s application. They have encouraged him to donate the land to the county’s Graham Hills Park in order to receive a tax break.
“These are clearly wetlands that have purpose and we want them to remain wetlands and not be disturbed at all,” resident Joan Scire said. “That’s our stand.”
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