TRURO — An independent review of the Cloverleaf, the largest single affordable housing development in Truro’s history, found it needs a more powerful septic treatment system than was originally proposed.
Community Housing Resource Inc. of Provincetown, developer of the Highland Road project, is now investigating the cost of installing such a system, after the review found the proposed system would not break down nitrogen enough to adequately protect nearby private wells.
Ted Malone, president of the development company, told the zoning board of appeals on March 12 that he had been expecting this outcome. He said he would come back with a new plan on April 2.
He also told the ZBA that he has had to reconfigure the entrance and exit to the development to make it easier for emergency vehicles to turn around. The new design caused the loss of one apartment, so now there will be 39 units instead of 40, Malone said.
ZBA members agreed the septic treatment issue was the most important at this stage. The technology exists to provide a higher level of treatment; one such system has been used successfully at the Brackett Landing affordable housing in Eastham for over a decade, said Mark Nelson, a principal at the Horsley Witten Group of Sandwich, which conducted the review.
“It buys an additional level of safety protecting the private wells,” Nelson told the ZBA.
Nelson came to this conclusion after installing three monitoring wells in January to see where the groundwater flows from the proposed Cloverleaf site. He found that it moves south into Pilgrim Pond and the marsh in the Pond Village area, he said.
The state Dept. of Environmental Protection has set a limit of 10 milligrams of nitrogen per liter for drinking water. Nelson found the nitrogen level would be above that outside the boundaries of the development using a traditional treatment system. Therefore, he said, private wells on neighboring properties could be affected.
Town Planner Jeffrey Ribeiro as well as the town’s attorney, Barbara Carboni of KP Law, recommended that the ZBA condition approval of the project on an upgraded treatment plan, and the board agreed.
“The people in that neighborhood need that kind of protection that high levels of septic treatment can provide to them,” said Chair Art Hultin. “There are issues with groundwater quality in that neighborhood and we don’t want to be adding to it.”
The ZBA is reviewing the project under chapter 40B of the state’s General Laws, which provides for waivers for affordable housing construction. The ZBA can grant relief from certain zoning laws, though state sanitary codes and wetlands protections must be maintained.
A few neighbors of the Cloverleaf project on Highland Road had questions for Nelson at the March 12 meeting. And Peter Herridge of the planning board, a resident of Overlook Drive, repeated his assertions that the Pond Village area has the worst water quality in Truro.
Herridge said 22 private wells have been found to have nitrogen levels that the EPA would consider contaminated — and a few have levels much higher than that. He made similar claims in a “fact sheet” distributed in December and said that the Truro Board of Health had sent letters to residents warning them about their unsafe water.
But when the Independent tried to verify these claims, Truro Health Agent Emily Beebe said, “I’m not aware of any tests over 10 milligrams in that neighborhood. There are some readings that are over 3, and a couple over 5. The average in Pond Village of all the samples we could find is less than 2.”
Tracey Rose, chair of the board of health, told the Independent, “To the best of my knowledge, no letters have gone to Pond Village residents nor has anyone’s well tested at that high level.”
Herridge also told the ZBA in December that the high concentrations of nitrogen could lead to “blue baby syndrome,” and that he did not want Truro to become the next Flint, Michigan.
“I know people thought the blue baby [comment] was very funny,” Herridge said last week. “Yeah, very funny — until it’s your baby.”
The zoning board will meet again on April 2, at 5:30.