NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Local News

May 3, 2014

Beacon Hill Steps In

Lawmakers poised to allow landmark marsh boathouse to be demolished, replaced with home

(Continued)

One year later, Van Loan proposed demolishing the old house and replacing it with a new house featuring a boardwalk in another location on the one-acre property. But that idea was rejected by the Newbury Conservation Commission. He unsuccessfully appealed to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The DEP said the area is a vital salt marsh habitant for birds and marine life, which are protected from any project that would “destroy any portion of the salt marsh or have an adverse effect on the productivity of salt marsh.” The agency determined at the time that Van Loan’s project would destroy at least 1,022 square feet of marsh.

“It is also MassDEP’s opinion that the shading effect from the construction of the boardwalk, single-family dwelling and deck would result in the permanent destruction of salt marsh vegetation,” the state agency said in a 2009 letter.

Van Loan came back a few months later with a proposal to build the new house on the existing footprint, which would reduce the amount of salt-marsh vegetation destroyed. The town’s Conservation Commission approved the plan.

But the DEP rejected the new proposal, citing a 1886 state environmental law regulating coastal development. DEP said the law prevents rebuilding anywhere on the property unless there’s a “water-dependent” use for the new structure. Town officials said their hands were tied on the issue.

“We have no problem with his current proposal, but the state won’t allow it because of wetlands protections,” said Douglas Packer, chairman of the town’s Conservation Commission. “His only option was to pursue state legislation.”

So Van Loan took his fight to Beacon Hill.

He convinced town officials to sponsor a home rule petition exempting the project from the state’s wetland protection act. The request was approved by Town Meeting in 2012 and State Sen. Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, filed the legislation of his behalf.

Van Loan said he is paying a required annual water and sewer assessment for the property — roughly $17,000 over 20 to 30 years at a rate of 2 to 2.65 percent interest — even though he doesn’t use water and sewer at the boathouse.

“I’m not going to spend my money to rebuild it as a workshop,” he said. “Either I rebuild it as a house, or tear it down.”

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