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Frequently Asked Questions about the Town of Reading

Wetlands Permitting Process

 
What are wetlands?

Wetlands are areas where groundwater is at or near the surface.  They may appear dry during the summer and fall, but they contain enough water to support plants that are adapted to grow in wetlands such as red maples, skunk cabbage, cattails, reeds, and sensitive ferns.  Wetlands include ponds and streams, forested swamps, open marshes, wet meadows, bogs, and floodplains.  They also include vernal pools, which are temporary ponds that form in winter and spring, and dry out in summer.  

Why are wetlands important? 

During storms, wetlands hold water, preventing flooding and erosion.  During the dry season, they release stored water to keep stream and ponds flowing.  The soils and plants in wetlands remove pollutants to keep our water clean.  Wetlands provide food, shelter, breeding, and migratory habitat for fish and wildlife.    

What laws apply to wetlands in Reading? 

Wetlands are protected by the Federal Clean Water Act, the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act and the Massachusetts Rivers Protection Act, and the Wetlands Protection Section of the Reading General Bylaws.  In Reading, these laws are administered by the Conservation Commission. 

There are also special provisions for wetlands in laws pertaining to drinking water supplies, endangered species habitat, hazardous materials, solid wastes, pesticide application, mosquito control, building codes, and other matters.  The Conservation Commission works in partnership with the boards and officials who administer these related laws. 

How can I tell if there are wetlands on or near my property?

Look for low areas where water sits on the surface for several days after a storm, or for longer periods during the spring and early summer.  Adjacent to these areas, look for areas where the soils are saturated with water and muddy under foot. 

Look for common wetlands plants – red maple, American elm, river birche, silver maple, weeping willow, skunk cabbage, ferns and mosses, cattails, reeds and rushes, highbush blueberry, sweet pepperbush, alders, and willows. 

Look for thick, dark, organic soils.

Check the wetlands and floodplains maps on the Reading website, but keep in mind that these maps do not show all wetlands in Reading, and that the boundaries on these maps are only approximate.  

Call the Conservation Administrator at Town Hall (781-942-6616).  We have additional maps, site plans, and other records pertaining to wetlands boundaries.  
 

When do I need to get a wetlands permit?

Permits are required for any activity that will alter wetlands, floodplains, riverfront areas (land within 200 feet of any stream or river that flows all year long), and land within 100 feet of wetlands, commonly called the “buffer zone”. 

Activities that typically require permits include clearing of vegetation, tree cutting, grading and filling, constructing and demolishing structures, paving, and other work that will alter vegetation, soils, topography, or storm water runoff characteristics.  

Projects that require permits run from small projects such as fences, tree-cutting, decks, and sheds, to major projects such as additions, new houses, subdivisions, and commercial/industrial projects.  The trigger is their location in or near wetlands. 

Permits may also be used to confirm wetlands boundaries, as a preliminary step before design work.   

What kinds of permits are there, and which one should I apply for?

The type of permit depends on the size of the project and its proximity to the wetlands. 

Minor Project Permits (MP) may be used for paths, fences, stone walls, limited tree cutting, conversion of existing developed areas to vegetated areas, small residential projects (decks, sheds, above-ground pools, small porches, and patios), and for preliminary planning work (soils tests and borings, surveying, and monitoring well installation).  Such work must meet minimum setback standards (35-50 feet from wetlands, 100 feet from vernal pools, 100 feet from streams and rivers, and outside of floodplains).  Click here for a link to further information about the MP application process. 

A Request for Determination of Applicability (RDA) may be used for a basic determination whether wetlands are present on a site, and for permitting relatively small projects located towards the outer edge of the 100-foot buffer zone and well away from the wetlands.  They may occasionally be appropriate for a small project located towards the outer edge of the 200-foot riverfront area.  Small projects might be additions to houses or other buildings, landscaping projects that require grading and soil stabilization, or large sheds, porches and decks that do not meet the dimensional requirements of Minor Project Permits.  The resulting permit issued by the Conservation Commission is called a Determination of Applicability.  Click here for a link to further information about the RDA application process.

A Notice of Intent (NOI) is used for larger projects and for all projects located close to or within wetlands.  The resulting permit issued by the Conservation Commission is called an Order of Conditions.  Click here for a link to further information about the NOI application process.

An Abbreviated Notice of Resource Area Delineation (ANRAD) is used to confirm wetlands boundaries before work is proposed, in order to assure that the design is based on a complete and accurate depiction of all wetlands resource areas present on a site.  This is most often used to prepare for subdivisions, multi-family housing, and commercial or industrial projects.  Wetlands boundaries will be confirmed under a Notice of Intent if an ANRAD has not been submitted already.  The resulting permit issued by the Conservation Commission is called an Order of Resource Area Delineation.  Click here for a link to further information about the ANRAD application process.

What happens after I receive the permit? 

The Commission and/or Administrator will meet with the contractor before work begins to review the conditions of the permit.  They will make periodic inspections during work to assure that the conditions of the permit are met.  They will make a final inspection before closing the file.  If questions arise as work proceeds, they will work with the applicant to find solutions.   

Where can I obtain further information? 

Contact the Conservation Administrator, Reading Town Hall, at 781-942-6616 or ctirone@ci.reading.ma.us.   

Go back to the Conservation home page and follow the links to state and town wetlands laws and regulations, maps, forms, permit application checklists, websites for Mass. Department of Environmental Protection and Mass. Association of Conservation Commissions, and other pertinent information.
 

Permit Application Processes

How do I apply for a Minor Project Permit?

Submit the following to the Conservation Administrator at Town Hall:

·        a Minor Project Permit Application form (click here for link to form) that provides contact information and a brief description of the proposed work;

·        a site plan, map, or accurate sketch plan showing the location and dimensions of the proposed work; and 

·        a check payable to “Town of Reading” in the amount of $50 for the filing fee.

Upon receipt of these application materials, the Administrator will schedule a site inspection to assure that the work is located with proper setbacks from the wetlands and can be carried out without harm to the wetlands.  If so, the Administrator will issue the Permit.  If not, the Administrator will work with the applicant to modify the design as appropriate. 

Minor Projects do not require public notice or public hearings, but the Conservation Commission will review and ratify the Permit during their next regular meeting. 

Minor Project Permits are good for three years, but may not be revised or extended. 

Upon completion of work, the applicant requests a final inspection by the Conservation Commission.  If the Commission is satisfied with the work, they will issue a letter closing the file.  

RDA submittal checklist website.pdf

How do I apply for a Determination of Applicability?

Several weeks before the application:  obtain a list of abutters from the Assessor’s office in Town Hall;  fill out the RDA application form;  and prepare site plans and other supporting materials. 




Submit the application materials to the Conservation office in Town Hall two weeks before a regular Commission meeting date.  (Click here for link to meeting dates.)  Also send a copy to DEP Northeast Regional Office in Wilmington.

Upon receipt of the application materials, the Commission and Administrator will schedule site inspections, mail the legal notice to the abutters, publish the legal notice in the newspaper, and place the matter on their next agenda. 

The Commission will issue a Determination of Applicability within 21 days of receipt of the RDA.   They may confirm whether wetlands are or are not present.  They may determine that proposed work will require a Notice of Intent, or they may determine that work may proceed provided that certain basic conditions are met (erosion control, site stabilization, etc.)

A Determination is valid for three years.  It may not be revised or extended.  

Upon completion of work, the applicant requests a final inspection by the Conservation Commission.  If the Commission is satisfied with the work, they will issue a letter closing the file. 

 

How do I apply for an Order of Resource Area Delineation? 

Several weeks before the application:  obtain a list of abutters from the Assessor’s office in Town Hall;  fill out the ANRAD application form;  and prepare site plans and other supporting materials.  Wetlands boundaries should be marked by a professional wetlands scientist, and the scientist should provide a report describing the basis for the delineations.  Site plans must be surveyed by a Professional Land Surveyor. 




Submit the application materials to the Conservation office in Town Hall two weeks before a regular Commission meeting date.  (Click here for link to meeting dates).  Also send a copy to DEP Northeast Regional Office in Wilmington, and submit the State filing fee to DEP.

Upon receipt of the application materials, the Commission and Administrator will schedule site inspections, mail the legal notice to the abutters, publish the legal notice in the newspaper, and place the matter on their next agenda for a public hearing. 

After conducting the hearing, the Commission will issue an Order of Resource Area Delineation (ORAD).  At a minimum, the process takes about 4 weeks from submittal to date of issue.  The ORAD will include findings concerning the types of wetlands present on the site and the accuracy of the delineations, based on the information submitted by the applicant, observed during site inspections, and provided by other reliable sources.

If information is not sufficient for the Commission to confirm a delineation, the Commission may continue the hearing and request additional information from the applicant, or may make findings related to the incompleteness of the information.  It may be particularly difficult to confirm delineations during the winter months when plants are dormant and snow hides soils and topography.  Applicants are best advised to file an ANRAD between April and October.

An ORAD is valid for three years.  It may not be revised or extended.  If delineation is not complete in the ORAD, further boundary confirmation may occur when a Notice of Intent is filed for work on the site.


How do I apply for an Order of Conditions?

Several weeks before the application:  obtain a list of abutters from the Assessor’s office in Town Hall;  fill out the NOI application form ;  and prepare site plans and other supporting materials.  Wetlands boundaries should be marked by a professional wetlands scientist, and the scientist should provide a report describing the basis for the delineations.  Site plans must be surveyed by a Professional Land Surveyor.  Other relevant technical information such as soils test data, drainage designs, planting plans, etc. should be prepared by qualified professionals and submitted with the NOI.  




Submit the application materials to the Conservation office in Town Hall two weeks before a regular Commission meeting date.  (Click here for link to meeting dates).  Also send a copy to DEP Northeast Regional Office in Wilmington, and submit the State filing fee to DEP.

Upon receipt of the application materials, the Commission and Administrator will schedule site inspections, mail the legal notice to the abutters, publish the legal notice in the newspaper, and place the matter on their next agenda for a public hearing. 

If additional information or plan revisions are needed, the Commission may continue the public hearing to allow the applicant time to address the concerns.

After closing the public hearing, the Commission will issue an Order of Conditions.  At a minimum, the process takes about 4 weeks from submittal to date of issue.  The Commission may confirm wetlands boundaries and permit proposed work.  They will include conditions under which work will be carried out, and also conditions for long-term operation and maintenance that will continue after the work is done, if relevant.  In rare cases, the Commission may deny a project that does not meet wetlands protection regulations and standards. 

An Order of Conditions is valid for three years.  The Order must be recorded at the Registry of Deeds before work begins.  The Order may be revised and extended. 

Upon completion of work, the applicant requests a Certificate of Compliance and records the Certificate at the Registry.   

 

 



 
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