Tighter Wetlands Regulations Approved By Conservation Commission

JohnCarl McGrady •

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Folger's Marsh. Photo by Kit Noble | NantucketStock.com

The Conservation Commission adopted a long-delayed overhaul of the island’s wetland regulations on Thursday in a 6-1 vote. Mike Missurelli was the lone no-vote, though Linda Williams expressed some concerns with the new rules.

Under the new regulations, no-disturb zones will be set to 25 feet from wetlands — down from 50 feet in a version under consideration last July — and no new structures will be allowed within 75 feet of wetlands. The regulations will also impose further restrictions on coastal engineering projects and require that all pools be designed to never interact with floodwater. The regulations are set to go into effect on January 1st, 2025. Misurelli attempted to delay implementation until July 1st, 2025, but his effort was defeated.

Commissioners have long argued that the update is necessary to protect the island’s environment, conform to the large body of existing scientific research, and prepare the island for the impacts of climate change. The update had the support of various local groups, including the Coastal Resilience Advisory Committee, the Nantucket Coastal Conservancy, and the Advisory Committee of Non-Voting Taxpayers. Representatives from those groups, as well as a large number of private citizens, spoke in favor of the regulations at Thursday’s meeting.

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This graphic represents the approved changes relating to buffer zones that protect Nantucket's coastal and inland resources areas.

The updates to buffer zones that were approved on Thursday include:

  • The 25-foot "No Disturb" remains unchanged.
  • 25 to 50 feet: No structures allowed and no more than 50 percent disturbance. The 50 percent may be configured however the applicant chooses.
  • 50 to 75 feet: Structures are allowed, but the structural area within this zone must be offset with 1.5 times enhancement contiguous with existing vegetation in 25 to 50 feet (Red box on graphic)
  • 75 to 100 feet: Structures permitted with Conservation Commission review and issued order of conditions
  • 100-plus feet: No review or permits from ConCom needed

Opponents of the new regulations had highlighted the increased mandatory setbacks, arguing that they restrict existing property rights. Opponents also focused on a provision restricting impervious patio services in certain areas. After an extended discussion, the Commission opted not to alter the restriction.

“I have concerns as you know. I'm a broken record on this,” Williams said. “Rendering lots unbuildable…I think is tantamount to a taking.”

The Nantucket Builders Association (NBA) had previously raised questions and concerns about the wetlands regulations but did not speak out at Thursday's meeting. On Friday, the organization issued the following statement to the Current:

"The Nantucket Builders Association would like to thank outgoing chairman Ian Golding for his 12 years of service to the Nantucket Conservation Commission. We appreciate his candor and willingness to listen to the concerns of our association, our members, and the general public while navigating difficult topics; particularly these new wetland regulations," the NBA's statement read. "We look forward to working with the new commissioners and will continue to facilitate a conduit for information and for the advocacy of our membership and the clients we serve."

As the Builders' Association alluded to in its statement, Thursday’s meeting was held in the aftermath of a controversial Select Board vote to oust chair Ian Golding from the Commission on Wednesday. Golding’s replacement, construction executive John Schafer, will not take his seat until the next Conservation Commission meeting, giving Golding the chance to vote on the regulations. Several commissioners, staff members, and private citizens expressed thanks to Golding in his final meeting, applauding his dedication to the wetland regulations and his 12 years on the Commission.

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