Ideas Forum uncovers desire for diversity, commerce, community

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Sushih Singh (left) peers closely at the map as John Kaufman points to a spot in the Town Center during the Ideas Forum hosted by the Master Planning Steering Committee on Monday, June 18. (Photo by Rik Pierce)

In spite of record-breaking heat (and no air conditioning), about 70 people attended the Ideas Workshop on Monday evening, June 18, offering a range of suggestions from a totally green Carlisle to encouragement of marijuana sales. But in the end, several common themes emerged. People in Carlisle want more housing options for lower income residents. They want a more commercially vibrant and safely walkable Town Center. They want public transportation. And they want a community center.

The Ideas Workshop was sponsored by the Carlisle Master Plan Steering Committee, and the entire town was invited. After an overview presentation by Chair Janne Corneil, including some examples of what’s being done in other communities, the group broke into tables of about seven or eight people to discuss a variety of topics. At the end, each table reported its results. Maps of Carlisle were provided to each group, but most did not deal with geography, instead opting for less tangible issues.

A set of questions was offered for consideration. In short, they included: What do you value about living in Carlisle, and what is missing? What alternatives can you imagine to residential taxes? How do people work and commute? What amenities should be added to Town Center? Should the town introduce more density? What kind of housing is needed? What improvements could be made to Carlisle’s open space? How do we support sustainability? What about transportation? How do we enhance community engagement? What investments are needed at the school? How do we partner with other towns? Whether because of time constraints, or because they were not seen as priority needs, the last two questions were largely ignored, but the others were avidly discussed.

Discussion groups tackle meeting places, housing, town center issues

As pizza was served, the Mosquito recruited five participants to report on their breakout tables. Reports of those discussions follow:

The first table, facilitated by Melinda Gambino, offered diverse representation and a lively discussion. Included were a member of the planning board, a real estate professional with young children, a 40-year resident and a woman who had moved within the past couple of years to take up residence in the Benfield Housing, as well as other participants. Some comments about Carlisle included, “Right away I felt like I belonged,” “most welcoming,” “beautiful,” “on vacation when you’re home,” “found our people, our life-long friends,” “people are open to other people.” 

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Master Plan Steering Committee Chair Janne Corneil moderated the Ideas Forum on June 18.
(Photo by Rik Pierce)

Initial discussion centered on more kinds of meeting places, including recreational facilities such as a canoe launch or area with picnic tables, and a community center. One discussant introduced the idea of a “third space” to a community center (in addition to a large meeting area and classroom space) where people could just hang, have coffee and bump into each other. It was felt the community center should include all ages and be walkable and visible from the road so people going by could check it out and think about stopping in. One comment was “Ferns is too cumbersome (because of the rules governing alcohol), it’s not a place to hang.” The Hollis Room is frequently booked and not big enough for meetings of more than 50 people, so large meeting space is also a priority.

Talk turned to housing and it was offered that 40Bs like Benfield are not good templates for Carlisle. The speaker noted that Benfield frequently has vacancies even in the face of a senior housing shortage. “We should build what Carlisle needs, not what the state says,” was one comment. Most wanted to see smaller homes preserved, and it was observed that Lexington has a non-profit that buys homes targeted for tear-down and rehabs them to provide housing for first-time buyers and down-sizing senior citizens. These homes have deed-restrictions making them affordable (by local, not 40B definition) into the future. The group agreed this would be a good direction for Carlisle, and should include changes to the bylaws to encourage in-law apartments and additional buildings on a property where affordability is protected.

One participant used Workbar, a shared office with amenities, offered for short-term rentals, and felt the concept would work at the town’s unused Highland Building.

Open Space, diversity priorities

At another table, Joeth Barlas reported that participants were very concerned about environmental issues. Access to trails and plentiful conservation land were widely supported, and there was strong sentiment that people should not have to drive to a trailhead to go for a walk. Also, people should be able to get to the center of town without a car. Safety should be enhanced for bikers and walkers. There was a strong desire to maintain rural space without significant population growth but to do more with the resources on hand.

Economic diversity was also considered, and it was felt the town needs housing stock that does not require two full-time wage earners to pay the mortgage. The town also needs a commercial tax base, but the group identified no realistic sources of revenue, nor suitable locations. Could the town buy properties in the center and convert them to commercial use?

There is a need for gathering spaces, especially a multigenerational community center with a pool. Could the Highland Building be aligned with after school activities? Other issues discussed included the need for more town volunteerism and a plan for transportation within town and to adjacent towns.

New revenue sources

Betsy Fell joined a table that looked at ways to expand the tax base to address the town’s long-term revenue needs, as well as ways to add amenities and opportunities for socialization, such as a community center. 

One idea was to improve the Town Center infrastructure by adding a public sewer system in the center to allow more development. An owner of the old Deacon House, across from the library, said that he can not profitably rebuild and sell it due to septic and well restrictions that limit the building to a maximum of seven bedrooms. He would like a tie-in to the school’s wastewater treatment plant, which has extra capacity. 

Some wanted to increase the size of the commercial zoning area. Many supported clustered housing. On the other hand, one man wanted to encourage small farms and homesteaders and said, “Carlisle has a unique and special opportunity that’s probably destined to die like a samurai fighting the juggernaut of development.”  He was in favor of better land use, “We imagine we’re Yellowstone National Park,” he said, adding that conservation is about wise land use, not just more preservation.

Creative answers offered for raising revenue

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About 70 people attended the Ideas Forum to give input to the town’s Master Plan on Monday evening, June 18. (Photo by Rik Pierce)

Nancy Pierce sat at a table of seven with five members who had children at the local schools. The group supported commercial development to make money for the town and perhaps a rezoned commercial area, though the location was unspecified. Desired were an art gallery, gas station, restaurant and pharmacy. Could the town make money by supplying its own electricity, TV, or telephone service, or renting out cell towers? Other ideas included providing shared office space at Highland, a marijuana dispensary as revenue source, using the post office property commercially if the USPS closes it, and renting out the soccer fields to other towns.

All agreed on the need for a community center and that the Recreation Department should take over the Highland Building. Public transport was also on the list, especially a shuttle to CCHS and the Concord train station and to Alewife. There were suggestions for more disaster planning, submersion of power lines to prevent outages and roadway safety. It was agreed that more density might ruin the rural character of the town. In the end, a question remained: Carlisle might be ideal, but is it sustainable financially not to change a thing?

Kay Fairweather sat at a table with seven other participants. Many of the same themes emerged, including increasing the business zone, more pathways and a community center, either on Banta-Davis or Conant Land. There was also a suggestion to outsource the Transfer Station and use the land for another purpose. Recycling pickup was also desired. One resident suggested making the town completely organic, including a limitations on fertilizers and weed killers, and more use of composting toilets.

Common themes, some new ideas

At the end of the meeting, each table presented the results of their discussion. Virtually everyone addressed the following topics: increasing commercial development; traffic safety improvements including more pathways; a multi-generational community center and housing diversity to attract young parents, with many supporting zoning changes to achieve this. Public transportation was also popular. Several tables expressed a desire to limit further purchases of conservation land and better manage what Carlisle has, with trail links and other improvements. 

Unique ideas 

Among the wide range of ideas presented were:

• A restaurant in the Bog House
• Co-working space in the Highland Building
• Carlisle’s own electric company, like Concord’s, or our own cable company
• Burying electric wires in the Town Center
• Changes to the rotary to stop speeding
• Single Stream recycling and other recycling improvements
• More town fees for trail use and garbage disposal
• Rent out town facilities
• Ask for private land donations for municipal use
• Change housing, transportation, other services to encourage more 30 year olds
• Add an assisted living facility
• Encourage agriculture with an eye toward food security, land use and water rights

What is most valued?

Each group reiterated what all love about Carlisle: the open space, nature, the schools and the welcoming and interesting people. But as Launa Zimmaro noted, “There’s a tension between preserving the status quo and a need to move into a different way of doing things.” A great deal of energy, commitment and compromise will be required to address even a percentage of these proposed initiatives.

Next steps

Corneil closed out the meeting by referring everyone to a new website,, that will be running soon. She promised more forums and invited anyone who is interested to get involved with the Master Plan. She asked for a show of hands regarding support for a Special Town Meeting to vote on funding for the Master Plan, and many present agreed the town should hold it.

As a rainstorm that had earlier raged let up for a moment, the group took the opportunity to rush to their cars, most satisfied their ideas had been heard and many armed with new food for thought about the future of Carlisle. ∆