May 28—MANCHESTER — The Planning and Zoning Commission on Wednesday unanimously approved an inlands wetlands permit for the controversial $1.1 million road and sidewalk project along Gardner Street.
The PZC also certified an erosion and sedimentation control plan. The approval is valid for five years, and comes with a condition that water testing be done in an existing storage basin before, during, and after construction.
The town must complete the proposed work within one year of commencement.
AT A GLANCE
WHAT: The Planning and Zoning Commission approved an inlands wetlands permit for the controversial Gardner Street reconstruction project.
CONDITION: Water from an existing storage basin on Gardner Street must be tested before, during, and after construction.
WHEN: Bids open June 7, with construction expected to run from July to November.
The town has proposed building a 5-foot-wide concrete sidewalk along a portion of Gardner Street, between Fern and Line streets. In addition to the multiuse path, the project would involve reconstructing a portion of Gardner Street and installing concrete curbs. New sewers and other drainage improvements would also be installed.
Gardner Street residents have been at odds with the project since it was announced in February 2021, and have shown up at public meetings to express their concerns.
Wednesday's public hearing focused on how the project would affect surrounding wetlands. Town officials had said it would be minimal, impacting about 0.001 acres.
Town Engineer Jeff LaMalva said the proposed drainage improvements would help protect the surrounding wetlands by filtering stormwater runoff into sewers and catch basins. But some Gardner Street residents who oppose the project said the town's plan was unsatisfactory.
After hearing opinions from both sides, the PZC agreed that the proposed activity would not significantly disturb the natural or indigenous character of the wetlands.
"It's been established that there was a very small disturbance on this," PZC member Patrick Kennedy said. "From that standpoint, I think this needs to be approved."
This section of Gardner Street is in a rural part of southern Manchester. Both residents and PZC members have said they support repairing deteriorating portions of the street. But many residents who spoke on Wednesday said they worry the project would affect drainage. Some wore shirts with the phrase "Green Lives Matter," referring to the harm they believe it would do to the local environment.
Seth Zaleski and Ellen Williams, both Gardner Street residents, asked why the town is not installing more catch basins to protect residents with properties susceptible to flooding during heavy rain.
"My road is totally wiped out in front of my yard because of the velocity of the flow when it storms," Williams said, advocating for another catch basin.
In response, LaMalva said that engineers tried to find a balance between fully reconstructing the road and maintaining some of its rural characteristics. They chose to put catch basins in the most necessary spots, and not completely blanket the street, he said.
Other residents raised concerns that construction would force more water down steeper sections of Gardner Street, eroding the road over time and contaminating wells.
Gardner Street resident Gail Peck said that by removing about 38 trees to create a multiuse path, the town risks worsening stormwater runoff. According to the EPA, trees slow stormwater and distribute it, reducing erosion of pavement, Peck said.
"We're going to have even more water because we're adding pathways and taking down trees," Gardner Street resident Richard Whitehead said.
Whitehead, who bought his house on Gardner Street with his wife 30 years ago said increased runoff would be especially problematic in the winter, when cold temperatures create icy, slippery conditions.
"From an engineering perspective, the (town) looks at the typical. But we're not very typical up there," Jane Whitehead, Richard's wife, said.
LaMalva responded that the project would result in a minor increase of water flow.
Gardner Street resident Bill O'Neill said he "enthusiastically" supported the project's design because it would eliminate a recurring drainage problem at the intersection of Gardner Street and Wyneding Hill Road.
Because they were sitting as an Inlands Wetlands Commission during the public hearing, PZC members, who act in both capacities, said certain aspects of the project — such as the multiuse path and removal of trees — were out of their purview for now.
But PZC member Patrick Kennedy hinted at his thoughts on the multiuse path, though.
"Really what they should do is just do the road reconstruction and not do the sidewalk, which really seems to be in there mostly as a matter of theology," he said.
Chair Eric Prause called Gardner Street a unique part of town because of its rural charm, and acknowledged that residents are determined to keep that intact.
"Going up that road, you lose sense of being in Manchester," Prause said. "It's unlike any part of town."
As part of the approval, Prause proposed a condition that turbidity measurements are taken to ensure that no water pollution occurs because of faulty sediment controls.
Prause sympathized with residents concerned about tree removal, and said the town's tree warden should hold a public hearing on the issue soon.
The bidding process on the project opens June 7, with construction expected to run from July to November.