Could the fairy shrimp get in the way of Bill Cummings' plans to develop his newly acquired property on Dunham Road?
That's the question the city's Conservation Commission is seeking to answer.
The commission voted last week to hire a consultant to determine how many vernal pools are on the 54-acre site that Cummings Properties bought in December for $2.3 million.
Vernal pools are breeding grounds for the spotted salamander, wood frog and fairy shrimp and are protected by environmental laws. The city of Beverly's wetlands ordinance prohibits any development within 100 feet of vernal pools.
Conservation Commission Chairman David Lang said commission members visited the property last week to determine wetland areas and decided to hire a consultant to evaluate whether certain areas constitute vernal pools. One area is already certified as a vernal pool, and four others are potential vernal pools.
"It's a very wet area," Lang said. "It's a challenging site (to develop)."
Cummings Properties' plans for the land have come under scrutiny since the company cut down more than 150 trees in January. Residents of the adjacent Dunham Castle condominium complex hired a lawyer to investigate whether the tree-cutting was legal.
The lawyer, Ted Regnante, called the Conservation Commission's decision to hire a consultant a "tremendous victory" for the condo owners, who were upset that they were not notified of the tree-cutting, which removed a buffer between their condos and Route 128.
"It may very well be that the trees were removed within a protected area," Regnante said. "If that's the case, those trees will have to come back."
But Lang said it's likely that fewer than a half-dozen of the removed trees were within 100 feet of what might be a vernal pool.
"The majority of trees (that were cut down) are outside of our jurisdiction," Lang said.
Cummings Properties founder Bill Cummings has said the newly cleared property would be an ideal location for a hotel or office building, especially if the state builds a road connecting Route 128 to Dunham Road, a project that is being pushed by Mayor Bill Scanlon.
The rest of the property features wooded land and the former Parker Brothers building, which is now the headquarters for the Fantastic Sams hair salon chain.
Regnante said the entire parcel, which abuts The Salem News property, might not be able to be developed if it is found to have several vernal pools. In addition to the 100-foot buffer zones, room must also be maintained for migratory pathways for vernal pool breeders.
But John Dick, a wetlands scientist who has been hired by Cummings Properties, said the pools would only limit development, not eliminate it.
"The chances that all of (the potential vernal pools) are certifiable are pretty small," Dick said, "but I expect at least one or two of them will turn out to be certifiable."
The Conservation Commission is in the process of hiring a consultant, Lang said. He said the city's wetlands ordinance allows the commission to charge Cummings Properties for the consultant's fee.
The Conservation Commission continued discussion on the matter to its next meeting on April 24 at the Beverly Farms Library.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or by email at email@example.com.