BRATTLEBORO — A new pump station proposed by the town received criticism for its design and how it appears likely to get rubber stamped due to its categorization as a “community facility” under state regulations.
During the hybrid hearing Wednesday night where participants on both sides of the screen displaying Zoom experienced difficulties hearing others, the Development Review Board heard several complaints about the project at 401 Guilford St. that will replace a nearby pump station.
Richard Zucker, who owns property on Guilford Street across from the site, said it seems “cavalier” that a summary in the permit application says the project will lead to an aesthetic improvement.
“That would only be if you found industrial buildings attractive,” Zucker said. “I don’t have a problem with the building. I just want to make sure that it’s not a second thought to look at the different issues that might improve the aesthetics of the experience of the surrounding neighbors who live next to the building.”
Zucker worried about noise from a generator and lighting. Project engineer Chrissy Haskins of Dufresne Group described lighting being downcast and minimal, and the generator having a structure for sound attenuation that is typical for residential areas.
Wendy Bayliss, who lives on Guilford Street, said she counted three separate requests for waivers in the application and Wednesday night was the first time she heard the town did not need one if it is building something.
In 2006, Bayliss and her husband gifted the town about 435 square feet of land that the pump house is on. The current pumphouse is bordered on three sides by lawn, shrubs and yard, all part of the Bayliss family parcel. In 2020, the town purchased the adjoining lot of .26 acres from another party.
Zoning Administrator Brian Bannon said the board is not considering any waivers but has to determine whether the design is functional. That created confusion for Bayliss and board member Michael Averill, who said the town is not supposed to be treated differently during such hearings.
“It seems as if everything about this project needs a variance — both being on the setback and in the wetland, being so close to the road,” Averill said.
Bannon said under a specific exemption in state law, community facilities do not need to meet standards if it affects their functionality.
“All we’re doing is approving or not approving the site plan,” DRB Chairwoman Maya Hasegawa said. “We’re running into the state regs and the state regs require certain things for the pump station.”
Averill said the town bought land for the pump station knowing it was a wetland.
“I think that was preferable to condemning other land that wasn’t in wetlands,” Bannon said. “It had to be in the general vicinity.”
Bayliss spoke of not feeling like she was invited to participate more fully in the hearing. She also worried how a temporary easement given to the town for construction might result in damage to the area.
“The new work is all going to occur on the town’s property,” Haskins said.
Andrea Watkins of Brattleboro said she doesn’t think the project fits into the bucolic nature of the neighborhood where her friends reside.
“The proposed structure strikes me as the equivalent of a large shed or a tiny house but out at where the sidewalks will be,” she said.
Haskins said the existing pump station owned by the town currently serves about 14 residential water customers on Hillcrest Terrace and Signal Hill Road. She described it being a small concrete vault, partially buried in the ground with an above-grade roof structure — it’s about 6.5 feet wide and 8.5 long.
The roof needs to be dismantled to access the station then an operator climbs down a ladder into the vault to get to the equipment, Haskins said.
The station runs automatically on its own and has one submersible well pump, two pressure tanks, a pressure gauge and a sump pump. Portions of it are embedded into trees, Haskins said.
The state performs inspections of such facilities every three years. Haskins said deficiencies with the existing station were identified in 2018 and the town’s water department was asked to perform an evaluation to resolve them.
To conform with the state’s water supply rule, the pump station will need to be readily accessible at all times and protected against entry from vandals or animals. It also will need to be weather resistant and have alarms, heating, ventilation, at least one more pump, and adequate space for additional pumps as well as safe and efficient servicing of equipment.
In April, the state required the town to replace the station by Sept. 3. Haskins said an extension is being requested due to significant procurement issues in the water industry and the hope is to complete the project by the fall or next spring depending on availability of materials.
Proposed is partial demolition of the existing station and the construction of a prefabricated building that would be about 30 feet long, 10.5 feet wide and 10 feet tall on a parcel the town purchased last year for the purpose. Haskins said it is about 50 feet south of the existing station on land considered a Class 3 Wetland by the state because it has hydric soil, a high water table and wetland plants.
“The new building will have vinyl siding and metal roof full of natural colors,” she said, adding that it have five pumps.
Haskins said the new pump will continue to serve the 14 customers in the neighborhood and provide additional fire protection through an existing hydrant on Guilford Street just south of the pump station that will be connected. Hydrants also will be added at the intersections of Hillcrest Terrace and Guilford Street, and Signal Hill Drive and Hillcrest Terrace.
The goal also is to be ready for future development or connections.
A 10-foot wide paved driveway will allow for maintenance trucks and equipment, Haskins said, adding that it was designed with a slope meant to minimize impacts to the wetland. Also included in the plan is a 5-feet asphalt walkway that she said meets Americans with Disabilities Act and Vermont Agency of Transportation guidelines.
Waivers were requested for noise levels associated with a generator and the number of plantings needed for screening, Haskins said, even though Bannon later said they are not needed.
Hasegawa said an abutter wondered why not decommission the station and leave it as is.
“The proposal is not to completely demolish and remove that existing pump station, and that’s because of the existing trees around it,” Haskins said. “We don’t want to lose those large trees.”
The plan is to remove the roof, take out internal components, and cap pipes and water lines. Haskins said if a contractor cannot remove concrete blocks without damaging trees, they will be left in place. But either way, she said, the structure will be filled with material and restored with grass.
The board voted 5-1 to go into deliberative session, which is anticipated to happen via Zoom in the next week or so. Once the decision is issued, a 45-day appeal period follows.