Outdoor classroom approved for Fiddlehead School

| Joanne Cole |

A structure for an outdoor classroom for Fiddlehead School of Arts & Sciences to use at Thompson’s Orchard on Gloucester Hill Road got the green light from the planning board Tuesday evening.  Fiddlehead’s application was one of three matters before the board on February 16.  Others involved a new multi-use commercial building on Sabbathday Road and a to-be-split lot on Targett Road.

Fiddlehead School outdoor classroom.  Fiddlehead’s specific request was for approval to build a 35’ x 35’ platform for a yurt that would serve as a classroom.  Executive director Jacinda Cotton-Castro was on hand, along with property owner Mike Thompson, to support the application.  Board member Steve Libby, whose property abuts Thompson’s land, sat this one out.       

In his overview, town planner Scott Hastings noted that Fiddlehead has been using the orchard’s gazebo informally for outdoor education.  The proposed new structure would be located below the gazebo, not visible from the road.  With Thompson’s Orchard already approved to host events on the parcel and the proposed structure’s modest footprint, this was deemed an accessory use, and likely to result in minimal additional impacts.   

Safety and access for buses were the focus of discussion.   Cotton-Castro explained that students would be bused from the Fiddlehead campus in Gray and use the classroom throughout the school year, including in winter.  At most, some 60 to 80 students might be on the property at any given time, she estimated.  The group discussed whether buses would stop on Gloucester Hill Road to pick up and discharge students, or use either the upper orchard road or the old Weymouth Road for safer access.  Both are plowed, but the Weymouth Road, a discontinued town road, might offer better visibility as other drivers descend Gloucester Hill Road, Thompson said.   

Board members agreed.  They voted to dispense with a site walk and public hearing, and then approved the application.  Cotton-Castro thanked everyone for “a very thoughtful and thorough process,” which prompted chair Don Libby to respond, “We do our best not to be whimsical, put it that way.”  Cotton-Castro added, “Let me say what a difference it makes for kids right now to be outside in nature” and able to do hands-on learning.  Approval clears the way for children to be onsite and in an outdoor classroom this spring.           

Icon Connections’ new commercial building.  From across town, Icon Connections came to the board seeking an amendment to add a 48’ x 100’ multi-use commercial building to its 10-acre site at 137 Sabbathday Road.  The firm, which does cable installation for Spectrum and Comcast, plans to use part of the new building and rent the rest.  Hastings noted that Icon was before the board last year to add a smaller similar building and since then a building has been removed from the lot and that area re-vegetated. 

Board members were concerned whether, with the new building, there would be more than three acres of impervious area, triggering a DEP permit requirement aimed at mitigating the impact of stormwater runoff.  The parcel is located in the groundwater protection zone.  The adequacy of screening for residential neighbors was also a question.  Given the several changes to the site and apparent inconsistencies between aerial images and the submitted site plan, the board decided to require a to-scale plan and more precise measurement of the impervious surface and setbacks.  The board also requested details on proposed screening for Icon’s residential neighbors and its erosion control plans.  Icon will be back. 

New lot on Targett Road.  The board also held a brief pre-application review of a proposal by Dan Clavett to split his existing lot at 87 Targett Road to create an additional new lot.  (Targett Road is off Witham Road, which is off Jack Hall Road, which is off Route 100.)  The lot in question is part of an existing approved subdivision, Witham Heights, and appeared to the board to have sufficient acreage to support an additional residential lot.  Next up: a site walk, part of a February 20 doubleheader, when board members will also do a site walk for a proposed subdivision at the corner of Lewiston Road and Bald Hill Road.    

To view the February 16 planning board meeting, click here.  For more information about the board and its work, click here.