An attorney representing property owners living on Cocasset Lake has warned of unspecified consequences should conservation officials approve current plans for an expansive new home perched atop a promontory off Water Street.
“The association is very, very upset about this,” Michael Khoury, whose practice is located on Route 1 in Foxboro, told members of the conservation commission Monday night. “I’m not sure what we’re going to go with if the board votes for it.”
Khoury said that members of the Cocasset Lake Association, who jointly own the lake, already hired an engineer to review present plans and prepare revisions for the commission to consider, while hinting that an environmental specialist may likewise be retained to rebut a recently completed habitat study.
“The issue here is the preservation of the lake, the rights of other lake owners and the preservation of wildlife,” he said.
At issue is a pending application, submitted last fall, to demolish a long-vacant single-family home at 31 Water St. and replace it with a much larger dwelling elsewhere on the 4.2-acre parcel.
“The activities and development of this lot will have a tremendous impact on the lake,” said Khoury, who participated remotely in Monday’s public hearing. “The lake association is very concerned that construction of the home so close to the water will impact stormwater runoff and erosion.”
During an initial project presentation last October, William Buckley Jr. of Bay Colony Group, the local engineering firm overseeing the project, said the proposed single-family house had been designed and positioned to take advantage of spectacular views across the privately-owned lake.
At that time, nearby residents who identified themselves as members of the Cocasset Lake Association were critical of the proposal, especially the scope of the project and its proximity to the shoreline.
According to records on file at the Secretary of State’s office, Cocasset Lake Association was organized in 1967 “to preserve and improve Cocasset Lake in Foxboro and the property adjacent thereto.”
The applicant, Steven Gringeri of 54 Shoreline Drive, reportedly has executed a purchase-and-sale agreement on the property, which is currently owned by a son of Roberta Lawson, Foxboro’s former town clerk who died in 2009, according to assessor’s records.
This week, Buckley highlighted several modifications in response to requests by commission members. These included repositioning the proposed dwelling 10 feet further from the northern shoreline, adding erosion controls to minimize runoff during construction and incorporating plantings better suited to the site.
Joining Buckley on Monday evening were local attorney Frank Spillane and Lauren Gluck, an environmental scientist with Pare Corporation, who presented findings from a wildlife habitat evaluation requested by commission members.
Gluck explained that her review included upland areas where the proposed dwelling is to be built (technically excluded from the commission’s purview), as well as more ecologically sensitive areas closer to the water’s edge.
She said the property is populated largely by oak and white pine trees -- as well as some red maple, tupelo and birch -- with most located closer to the shoreline in areas off-limits to construction. As a result, she estimated that one-third of trees six inches in diameter or larger would be removed during construction.
“We’re seeing a more diverse, robust plant community in those areas of the parcel to be protected,” Gluck said.
Commission member James Marsh recommended that Gluck’s findings -- which Chairman Robert Boette labeled a “very detailed” study -- be incorporated into any final decision on the project.
Conservation agent Jane Pierce said the applicant’s willingness to reposition the proposed home was a positive sign.
“In essence you’re going to have a 35-foot no-activity zone,” Pierce said. “Stating that you’re going to vegetate that area and not have heavy machinery in there will be really helpful.”
But John Hage of 18 Woodland Road, who serves as treasurer of the lake association, challenged Gluck’s findings, claiming that numerous species found on the property were not identified in her report.
Hage also said that pulling the house back 10 feet was insufficient given the extent of land clearing, and asked the commission to impose a 50-foot “no-touch” zone -- twice the 25-foot requirement found in town bylaws.
Local regulations prohibit any alterations within 25 feet of a wetland, while granting commission members authority to impose conditions on work within a 100-foot buffer zone or, in the case of a river or stream, 200 feet.
“The reason we’re here is because this is self-inflicted by the applicant,” Hage said, later presenting commission members with what he termed a “reasonable compromise” to relocate the proposed dwelling further from the shoreline. “There’s other ways of positioning this so it wouldn’t have as much impact.”
“We submit that all these issues we are raising are valid and the issue that the applicant has is he wants to have a better view,” Khoury added.
Gluck defended her work, suggesting that such a report aims to identify a range of habitats rather than compiling an inventory of existing wildlife species.
“The focus of the evaluation is to look at what types of habitats could be potentially provided,” she said. “So even if you don’t see a specimen at that time, you’re looking at what types of different tree cover, plant composition and habitats that would support those different species.”
“I do recognize it’s a very pristine and diverse habitat on that peninsula,” Gluck added.
Spillane reiterated that most trees and native vegetation are located in areas bordering the shoreline, within the 25-foot no-activity zone, and will be retained.
“We feel very comfortable with the plan we had proposed here,” Spillane said. “We don’t think that this proposal is going to have any real impact on the lake.”
Commission members Monday night voted to formally close the public hearing, but deferred final action on the plan to a later date.
“Now we’ll write an order of conditions with a lot of conditions,” Boette observed.