WESTFIELD – Issues raised at last week’s Planning Board meeting about the completion of work at Angelica Estates could lead to a change in building permit requirements.
Robert Levesque of R. Levesque Associates gave an update to the board about the closeout of Angelica Estates, on which the city is holding the bond, on behalf of developer Joe Kelly, who was also present.
Levesque, who designed the overall plans for the subdivision, explained that the lots were sold off by Kelly and built by different builders who did not follow the grading plan. He said several of the houses were built too low, and had drainage and puddling issues.
Also discussed at great length at the meeting was the fact that the swale that was to be put in the rear of the properties on one side of the road had only just been constructed by John and Jay Beltrandi of Belco Construction, who put in the road in 2016. One homeowner and several board members questioned whether the delay was partially responsible for the problems.
Levesque said the builders that coordinated with him and built the lots according to the grading plan brought in sufficient fill, and the houses looked great. But, with the builders who did not follow the grading plan and saved money on fill, the houses were too low and had the problems.
Levesque recommended to the Planning Board that a grading plan be added to the building permit for individual houses on a subdivision. He said other communities, notably Agawam and Southwick, require a grading plan for a building permit. He said this will cost a little more for the homeowner, but would alleviate problems.
Levesque said that he is designing a subdivision at the Southwick Country Club, where there are three different builders. He said in Southwick it is the responsibility of the builder or the lot owner to handle the grading plans for the lot.
“If it’s a requirement, they’ll do it; if it’s not, they won’t necessarily,” he said.
“Are you saying if you lay out a plan for a neighborhood and a plan is approved by the Planning Board, the builder doesn’t have to pay attention to vertical plans,” asked John Bowen.
Levesque said they will pay attention to the grading for the septic system, but may just look at the septic system. He said it takes a builder that knows all the pieces to the puzzle.
Angelica Estates lot owner Jeanine Ruccio, who lives on one of the lots that was built too low, according to Levesque, said she believed that the drainage problems were caused by the swale not being in place at the time that her house was built. Ruccio, who said her children could not even play in the back yard, asked who would be held accountable.
Planning Board members also said the swale should have been put in with the roadway and stormwater infrastructure and called it “unacceptable” and “disappointing” that it took the developer being called in before the board to get it done.
Both Levesque and developer agreed that the swale should have been put in with the roadway, but said due to scheduling conflicts and private circumstances was not done in a timely manner. However, they both said it has been done correctly, and Beltrandi went out of his way to adjust the swale and add fill in order for the drainage to work for the low-lying lots.
“The swale, I agree with you, wasn’t done in a timely manner, but that’s a poor excuse for not following a grading plan,” Kelly said.
Kelly said they had started building on the other side of the cul-de-sac after the road was done, where there is no swale. But, he said sophisticated builders would have shot the grade.
“I wouldn’t be hiring someone who’s going to eyeball it,” he said, adding that the biggest problem was that the builders wanted to cut corners when significant fill was required.
“It was all about money and saving fill,” he said, adding that he agreed with Levesque about changing the requirements for a building permit.
Both Levesque and Kelly said they had worked with Ruccio to attempt to alleviate the problems in her back yard. Levesque said he would meet with her following last week’s meeting, and had designed a simple grading plan that would allow the drainage to flow correctly to the corner of the swale behind her house.
Planning Board chairman William Carellas said every statement that he had heard was true. If the swale were in when the road was built, eyeballing contractors would have had a better sense of how their land would drain. But the responsibility was also on the owner and builder to raise the house to the grading plan.
Carellas asked City Planner Jay Vinskey what they were responsible for as a Planning Board. Vinskey said the city is responsible for the common infrastructure, which includes the roadway, pavement, sidewalk, street trees, underground utilities, storm basin and swale, for which the city would have an easement.
“We don’t get into the individual lots,” Vinskey said, adding they would be under the Building Department. He said he had discussed the recommendation with the building inspector. He said it may be an ordinance change to require a grading plan as part of building permits.
“What’s before you now is the subdivision. The swale was the last outstanding piece of the subdivision. We don’t get into the layouts of individual lots,” Vinskey said.
Levesque said he and the developer were preparing the “as built” plan to present to the Engineering Department, who would inspect the subdivision. They will then present the plan to the board on Sept. 17, and request closeout and release of the bond, which Vinskey said was approx. $165,000.
Carellas encouraged Levesque and anyone else who could help Ruccio to resolve the issues in her back yard.
Following the meeting, Beltrandi explained that when Belco put in the road, the property wasn’t cleared by the developer and ready for them to put in the swale, and they went on to other projects.
Beltrandi said that Ruccio’s problem has now been solved, because when they did the work, they adjusted the elevation to allow the water behind her house to drain correctly.
“The swale is working perfectly now. The problem is solved,” he said.
Beltrandi also said that it is a good idea to require a grading plan on the building permit, which would eliminate the issues they are looking at now.
“If it’s required as part of submission, it takes away all of the guesswork,” he said, adding that he just completed a house in Southwick where the DPW director said they would check the grade before issuing a certificate of occupancy.
“That’s what I would suggest would solve these problems,” Beltrandi said.