The owner of a lot that had truck loads of snow piled up more than 30 feet high on a lot on Elm Street lost its appeal that they violated the town’s zoning rules, will be fined and may have to pay for an environmental study.
The lot had hundreds of truck loads of snow delivered in late February. Eastside Town Councilor Angeline Kounelis said she received complaints from residents and she reported the snow dump to the town, including Zoning Enforcement Officer Michael Mena.
Mena sent a order to cease the dumping and remove the snow on Feb. 23. The manager of the site, Bill Dillon, appealed the ruling.
Kounelis said she opposes having such an operation in town.
“It is disrespectful to the neighborhood, and disrespectful to the (Zoning) board for even bringing this about,” she said.
Thursday night, the Zoning Board heard the appeal of the case about 80 Elm Street, a site that where a hotel has been proposed to go.
The site had been under review by the Department of Environmental Protection for contamination by the previous owner – Atlantic Battery Company. It has been cleaned up enough to have a hotel on the site, but would not be able to be used for a day care or apartment building, Dillon said.
The land is owned by Joseph White, a landscaper, and since landscapers plow snow in the winter. He and Dillon believed this would be an acceptable use of the land, which is zoned Industrial 1. He added that when they purchased the land they checked with the town whether the site could be used for a landscaping business.
Mena disagreed, adding that even if it was allowed, a permit would be needed – which the owners never applied for or received.
“A snow dump, much like a soil dump, would be definitely classified as industrial and no longer allowed (in Industrial 1),” Mena said. “When we said landscaping would be allowed, we clearly said there was no authorization for outdoor storage of material or equipment and they needed a permit.”
The pure size of the pile amazed the Zoning Board members. ZBA member David Ferris stopped by before the meeting.
“I expected to see the snow gone, so I was surprised to see 15-18 feet of snow,” Ferris said.
Dillon said he is not sure how many truck loads came to the site. On the first day there were 60 deliveries, and after that they stopped counting. Dillon said the snow did not have contamination.
“Joe (White) knows all the contractors. We wouldn’t have people we didn’t inherently trust dump snow,” Dillon said.
The ZBA questioned some of the items they saw on top of the soil, including metal, wood and wire conduit. Dillon said that came from the site, and was dumped on top when snow on the perimeter of the site was removed to create a “moat” into which the snow will drain.
One of the biggest concerns for the Zoning Board and the town is the snow would be melting into contaminated soil.
“It strikes me that no one knows where the snow comes from,” said ZBA member John Gannon. “The city of Melrose allowed Big Dig dirt to be used on a golf course and it wound up costing them $1 million to clean up. I’m sure they didn’t know it would be a problem.”
Gannon suggested having an environmental study of the ground water on the site, but said that they is beyond the ZBA’s authority.
Dillon said the property owner has a history of cleaning up sites in Watertown and building something new, including at 192 Pleasant Street and 85 Water Street. He argued they should let the snow remain on the site.
“The least intrusive thing to do would be to let the snow melt,” Dillon said. “Then we would not have to bring in trucks.”
The Zoning Board voted unanimously to uphold Mena’s order to cease the snow dump and remove the snow. They also voted to request that the Zoning Enforcement Officer and Planning Department look into appropriate ways to test the site for environmental issues, and possible enforcement from the Department of Environmental Protection.
Mena said he will determine what the fine will be. It can from $100-300 a day for as long as the site was in violation of the town’s zoning ordinance, Mena said.