WE ARE HOMETOWN NEWS.

PELHAM — Last summer, Karen Smith of the Council on Aging suggested to Selectboard member Tara Loomis that, because seniors have few places to walk in town, a walking path behind the Rhodes Building and the school would be very popular. Seven months later, the Planning Board secured a map for the project so that everyone is on the same page at Town Meeting.

It is not yet clear what the project will be.

“Our intention was to have something to say at Town Meeting about what the working group and the Planning Board has decided or has discovered,” said Judith Eisemann, chair of the Planning Board. “What Daniel Saltz gave us was a preliminary plan. He’s divided the town-owned land and the school property into three parcels.”

Saltz was tasked with creating a map of the area behind the public buildings that may be involved in the project. He submitted an unfinished plan because the working group doesn’t yet know what is involved in the project. The land available for the project is also not defined.

Parcel A, the parking lot of the Rhodes Building, is the primary focus of the working group. South of the parking spaces, vacant plot of wetlands and trees, shaped like a bowtie, may also play a central role in the development.

Delineating the limits of usable land on that lot, owned by the Rabinowitzes, is one preparation by the ad hoc committee for Town Meeting.

James Doubleday, a member of the ad hoc group, said members of his group have “scaled out” the wetlands borders and gauged the slope of the land in case a building may be involved. The group also sought feedback on what horticultural improvements residents might like to see. Group members talked with the town clerk and fire and police chiefs to gather feedback on public safety and other concerns.

“We’re putting that all into a Google Doc,” Doubleday said. “We’re still just gathering information. If the majority of the information we get is for one particular [version] versus another, it’ll be weighted that way.”

Town officials have known for over a decade the town center was in need of walking and gathering places. The 2010 Pelham Village Centers Study Committee reported that bylaws are often drawn up to encourage a vibrant center and “To encourage pedestrian activity by creating a positive pedestrian experience.”

The Rabinowitz property offers some challenges in light of the the town’s wetlands regulations, which Eisemann helped draw up. The local bylaws are more restrictive than state laws. Planning Board member Stacey McCullough relayed that Ward Smith of Wendell Wetlands Services said the wetlands may not need a setback. A setback would further constrict the land available for the project — but that would only be true under state law and not Pelham’s bylaws.

It was still to be discovered whether the wetlands need a setback. Eisemann said it was a case where the Conservation Commission would have to weigh in and make a determination. Some incursion into the 100-foot buffer would be allowed, depending on what populates the soggy area.

“It depends on what that wetland actually has in it,” Eisemann said. “There would have to be some investigation to see if there’s some ferry shrimp or turtles, whatever is actually living in that wetlands. If it’s small, it may not support much life — but the ConCom will deal with that.”

Doubleday said the Conservation Commission won’t be able to make much progress in applying the bylaws until a project has been decided on. He noted the differences between regulations for a picnic table, a building or a residence. The commission can’t determine much, in relation to the wetlands, until the type of project is settled.

Eisemann agreed. A plot plan would be required before the commission’s blessing could be sought.

Planning Board members also discussed the town’s difficulties with the solar bylaw. The rewrite of the solar bylaws was submitted to Attorney General Andrea Campbell, who disallowed several points. Other amendments were added on Town Meeting floor, with the result that officials are not quite sure residents were fully aware of what they voted for.

The commission asked Eisemann if the Planning Board considered any further amendments to the bylaw.

“Most of our solar bylaw was left intact, and we still have most of the authority we had, accept for a couple of things the AG didn’t like, so we’re not going to amend our solar bylaw,” Eisemann said. Commission members, she said, “felt very stongly, after the confusion in Town Meeting, people did not understand what they were voting on, because of the amendments that were made.”

Eisemann also said the significant cost of contesting the attorney general’s decisions on the solar bylaw would be prohibited by the cost of litigation.

dpruyne@thereminder.com | + posts