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Hingham tries to streamline conservation permitting

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  November 6, 2013 02:21 PM

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Hingham residents seeking Conservation Commission approval for small projects may find the process more streamlined, after a decision to give the conservation officer more permitting power.

In a unanimous vote Monday, commission members turned over some permitting powers to the conservation officer rather than requiring a full hearing through the commission

“We looked at the level and number of permits coming in and the amount of work folks were having to do for permits that were generally found to have no impact, and we wanted to provide folks with a simpler way of getting that done,” said Abby Y. Piersall, a Hingham conservation officer.

The difficulty stems from conservation laws in Hingham that are stricter than state wetlands protections.

Piersall said the commission wanted to make sure all of Hingham’s regulations were followed, but recognized that the laws were so expansive that the process was becoming cumbersome for projects that fit under the town’s mandate but wouldn’t have much of an impact.

“It was prompted by the desire to keep a really high level of customer service and not force folks through a hearing process for projects that might not require that level of review before the entire commission,” Piersall said.

The regulation change allows residents with minor projects to receive approval within 10 days, rather than go through a process that can last two weeks or more.

Conservation officials are also looking to reduce the fee for the newly created conservation officer review, requiring $30 instead of the standard $50 required to go before the entire commission.

That fee reduction is still pending selectmen approval, Piersall said. If any applications come up in the interim, the fee would be waived.

Piersall also noted that if a project sought the expedited process only to need further review, it would have to pay the $20 difference between the two fees rather than pay for both.

According to draft language on the town’s website, projects qualifying for an expedited process have to fit a number of water setbacks.

Other specific projects fitting the guidelines were spelled out in the language, including the maintenance of an existing structure, repairs to existing septic systems, installation of underground utilities for an existing structure, hand removal of an invasive species, plantings of native trees, and more.

To read the entire draft language, click here.

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