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Nahant’s proposed wetlands changes could squeeze out Northeastern’s expansion

The Northeastern University Marine Science Center in Nahant abuts property that could be restricted under proposed wetlands protection changes. (Owen O'Rourke)

NAHANT — The town is considering zoning amendments to protect wetlands that could affect expansion plans for Northeastern University’s Marine Science Center.

“It protects all the natural resource areas and the open space in town,” said Enzo Barile, chairman of the Board of Selectmen. “Most of the open space that is up at Northeastern, coincidentally, is wetlands.”

According to a document outlining the proposed zoning bylaw amendments, the purpose of the zoning bylaw is “to protect the wetlands, water resources, and adjoining land areas in Nahant by controlling activities deemed by the Board of Appeals likely to have a significant or cumulative effect on resource area values.”

The amendments, which will eventually be presented to Town Meeting if passed by the Planning Board, would require permits to  remove, fill, dredge, build on, degrade, discharge into and otherwise alter any freshwater or coastal wetlands.

The bylaw would also cover marshes, wet meadows, bogs, swamps, vernal pools, banks, reservoirs, lakes, ponds, quarry pits, rivers, streams, creeks, beaches, dunes, estuaries, the ocean, land under water bodies, land subject to flooding by groundwater or surface water, land subject to tidal action, and all land within 100 feet of any of these features.

Barile said at least 40 percent of the town is considered conservation land.

“Anybody who wants to dig, move, build, or have any kind of activity in or around the wetlands area or a buffer or velocity zone will have to get permits and this will make it a little more difficult for them to get permits,” said Barile. “There will be conditions that they will have to meet.”

The Board of Selectmen voted the amendments unanimously, then the Planning Board reviewed them in brief, back-to-back early-morning meetings on Friday.

“We only received these documents five minutes before this meeting,” said Planning Board member Sheila Hambleton.

Vice chairman Cal Hastings shared the sentiment, offering to take questions from those in attendance but warning he may not be capable of answering them.

The Planning Board set a public hearing for March 30 at 8 p.m. to further discuss the proposed changes.

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