Carlisle School Committee reacts to Banta-Davis studies

by Karina Coombs

Selectman Doug Stevenson attended the January 8 Carlisle School Committee (CSC) meeting to discuss the process that could ultimately bring a vote on affordable housing at Banta-Davis to Town Meeting. The Selectmen and Carlisle Affordable Housing Trust are exploring shared use of the 38-acre site, which would include recreational facilities and up to 50 units of affordable housing. The property would also need to accommodate new school facilities, should there be need in the future. As controlling authorities, the BOS and CSC would need to vote their approval before Town Meeting on April 28. A two-thirds vote would then be needed at Town Meeting for it to advance.

Selectmen begin housing process

While acknowledging a tight timeline in terms of wrapping up studies, presenting reports and having discussions with the various stakeholders well before April, Stevenson explained it was the goal of the BOS to make it to Town Meeting for the community to have a “rational discussion” about using the land for housing. “It is not without controversy,” he said, “[but] our goal is to have an inclusive process.” 

Stevenson explained that the Selectmen are trying to manage the town’s growth and take initiative when it comes to 40B developments so they can be in a position to control the scope of future projects as well as to be able to deny unfriendly ones. He noted the town is well below the 10% affordable units it is required to have. With the real estate market recovering and neighboring communities reaching their 10% goal, Carlisle could become more attractive to developers. “Long Ridge Road brings that risk to light,” said Stevenson of the proposed 40B project that he described as “galvanizing” its neighborhood. 

CSC learns of studies

Banta Davis StudyStevenson presented the committee with a document that outlined the seven studies currently underway or completed (see table, page 4). In addition to a study conducted by the Recreation Commission to determine future needs and related costs, the Affordable Housing Trust is also conducting both a market and financial analysis to determine the need for and cost of affordable housing units within Carlisle. 

The BOS has also initiated three studies to look at traffic, a water supply and the school’s wastewater treatment plant. While Stevenson noted the three studies were in collaboration with the CSC, the committee was quick to point out they had not been included in the process. It had been the understanding of the committee, explained CSC member Melissa McMorrow, that CSC member Bill Fink would be included in the Request for Proposal (RFP) phase of the studies before any consultants were hired. 

“That is very concerning,” said McMorrow when the group learned the RFP process had concluded and the studies were already underway. CSC Chair Mary Storrs also questioned why Fink had not been included. While Stevenson could not explain why Fink had not been consulted earlier, he assured the group that going forward he would be.

Site for future school

Another sticking point for the CSC concerned the seventh and final study—a new school analysis. The study had been conducted previously to determine the size of a new building as determined by enrollment trends. The BOS document noted the “analysis will be reviewed again in light of any new information the school has available.”

Committee members asked Stevenson if voting “yes” to go ahead with the affordable housing project on Banta-Davis would affect their ability to build a school in the future. Because the housing project would require four acres, CSC members want to ensure they do not give up a specific piece of land without first being assured the remaining land would be appropriate for a school building. 

“We’re trying to be conscious of cost,” added Fink, explaining the committee did not want to spend money to analyze the property if the housing proposal was not going to make it through Town Meeting. “We’re being asked to give up control of the land,” added McMorrow. “That’s our vote, to give up control of some portion.” The group asked if they could go on record as supporting the idea, but wait for lot lines, parking analysis and other feedback before deciding which acreage to surrender. 

Stevenson explained that the school analysis showed that these things could all fit on the land, but they would still need to ensure it actually works as laid out. “How much money do you want to spend studying a school that is decades out?” asked Stevenson. Fink noted that the town felt it was worth buying the land in the 1970s and did not propose putting a school on it until several years ago. “They made the decision with that foresight and I think we should do the same.” McMorrow added, “That’s our job. There’s not that much land in town. It’s our fiduciary duty.”

DDS housing 

The BOS document also referenced a request by the Carlisle Board of Health and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection that the proposed ten-bedroom DDS housing on the Goff property at 338 Bedford Road be allowed to tie in to the existing wastewater plant.

While the committee was not opposed to the idea, they wanted to ensure the current study was investigating  if it would be possible to expand the system. “We need to know the system could be expanded to add more students down the road,” said Fink. Stevenson explained the current wastewater study was looking at this. CSC member Josh Kablotsky asked if the school could share the cost of future repairs or expansions with additional users of the system and Stevenson answered it would be a long-term goal. 

Fink also asked if the CSC could transfer the control of the treatment plant to another town department, especially considering other groups would be using it. Stevenson said there were state laws that controlled this and they would have to explore it further. Storrs mentioned that at an earlier meeting with Selectman Tim Hult and Town Administrator Tim Goddard, they discussed the legality of opening up the treatment plant to other groups. Storrs never received an answer and Stevenson explained that he did not know and said it would be a question for Town Counsel.

Schedule for review

Stevenson explained that the studies involving the CSC would be ready for the February meeting, but the CSC asked if that would allow them enough time to talk about the findings and ask follow-up questions. Storrs explained the committee had not started the process of thinking about the proposal. “Why are we rushing?” added McMorrow. Stevenson explained there would be ample time to go over the reports and discuss findings. He also suggested that if things could not be completed in time for Town Meeting in the spring, a special meeting could be held at a later date. 

The committee also requested reports from the other studies and questioned Stevenson as to what study findings would give pause to the Selectmen in terms of moving ahead. Stevenson explained that the financial analysis and wastewater treatment plan analysis would be big considerations. 

McMorrow asked if Town Meeting would be the first opportunity for the community to have a discussion on the housing project. Stevenson explained that the process has been going on for two years, with numerous committee meetings and Mosquito articles. “It’s the kind of thing people don’t pay attention to until it becomes real,” added Storrs. Said Stevenson, “At some point, collectively, we have to make a decision.” ∆