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CRAC team keeps an eye on Carlisle’s protected open space land

06aKC-CRAC

Members of the Conservation Restriction Advisory Committee (CRAC) confer with Conservation Administrator Sylvia Willard.

Left to right are: Carolyn Kiely, Wayne Davis, Willard, Ken Harte, Chair John Keating and Marc Lamere. Not pictured is CRAC member Jenifer Bush. (Photo by Karina Coombs)

by Karina Coombs

Hundreds of acres of open space in Carlisle have been protected from future development by means of permanent Conservation Restrictions (CRs) (see “What is a CR”, right). Carlisle’s Conservation Restriction Advisory Committee (CRAC) monitors the town’s CRs, educates the public and helps landowners. In addition, the group advises the Conservation Commission (ConsCom) and Planning Board and helps identify opportunities for new CRs within Carlisle. Each of the seven members of the advisory committee are appointed for one-year terms by the Selectmen and report directly to them. Current members include Chair John Keating, Wayne Davis, Marc Lamere, Ken Harte, Carolyn Kiely and Jenifer Bush.

First in the state

At its June 19 meeting, CRAC member Marc Lamere described a Massachusetts Open Space conference on June 8 in Ashburnham that brought together municipal volunteers working to preserve open spaces within the state. Lamere co-presented a session on CR monitoring and discovered that the Carlisle group was the first committee of its type that anyone had heard of. Conservation Administer Sylvia Willard noted Concord had the only other group in Massachusetts, the Conservation Restriction Stewardship Committee.

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Developing a CR

CRAC works with landowners interested in CRs. Lamere said that the committee asks them to meet with ConsCom and the Trails Committee when they are beginning the process to talk about public access of the land. For instance, he said, “Sometimes the land already has private trails that the neighborhood is already using, or it would be a terrific parcel to add new trails to provide access or extend existing trails.” Keating noted, “Public access is not required for a CR, but public interest is. Other public interests are wildlife habitat, especially for threatened and endangered species.”

Generally, buildings that fall within the boundaries of a CR, a barn or shed for example, can be maintained or replaced as long as they retain the original footprint. A property owner may also qualify to receive certain state and federal tax deductions and incentives based on a reassessed valuation of the property.

Once the CR has been approved by the town via the Conservation Commission (ConsCom) and the Board of Selectmen as being in the “public interest,” and also approved by the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, it is added to the property’s title at the Registry of Deeds and all future owners must abide by its provisions.

Monitoring CRs

Lamere explained the importance of monitoring CR sites and described what was done in Carlisle. Once a CR is granted, the property is monitored on a five-year cycle. After notifying the landowner and scheduling an inspection, a member of CRAC will come out and look at original property boundaries and land condition with the use of maps and photographs. The monitor will document its current condition, take additional photographs to capture detail and note any encroachment from abutting properties or improvements or development on the site. A report then goes to both Town Hall as well as the owner.

Lamere said that generally the monitors do not find a lot of issues and they find fewer when the property is still owned by the person who requested the CR, because they understand the rules. He said it is more common to run into problems with new owners who have inherited a CR and may not understand it.

CRAC works closely with Willard and the ConsCom. During the meeting on June 19, Willard provided updates on activity related to CRs on the Elliott Preserve and Poole Swamp.

Elliott Preserve update

Willard explained that she had recently conducted an inspection of the nine-acre Elliot River Preserve with Dan Stimson, Assistant Director of Stewardship of the Sudbury Valley Trustees (SVT). SVT owns the land, while the town of Carlisle holds a CR. Willard noted that while they found some of the property boundaries, other boundary markers were underwater. The pair also found a location on the property where an abutter had cut down some trees, but Willard noted the land was not under a CR when the unauthorized work was done. She also emphasized the abutter was “making arrangements” to rectify the situation and had “been extremely cooperative.” (See “ConsCom considers remedy for unauthorized work at Elliott Farm,” June 19). Keating noted he would begin to put together an inspection report for the property.

Poole Swamp

Willard also reported she sent a certified letter on June 6 to some School Street homeowners about slash material they deposited on nearby land they did not own, that is part of the Poole Swamp property owned by CCF. The town owns and monitors a CR on the 15-acre property. The committee will look at the property before the next meeting on July 23 to see if it has been cleared of debris.

Enforcement

While CRAC will work with homeowners to remedy any site infractions, any additional development, done knowingly or not, will be required to be removed at the expense of the homeowner. Legal fees arising from disputes between the owner and the agency that acquired the CR will also be recouped from the homeowner per state legislation passed in 2006. (See “Chateauneuf conservation restriction upheld,” August 25, 2006).

Why it all matters

Some critics of CRs suggest the practice is short-sighted, locking away open space in perpetuity when no one knows what development needs might arise in the future. Lamere explains that CRAC tries, “to make sure that the land being proposed to have a CR placed on it is indeed land that should be held for conservation and that purpose would be the best one to serve the town.”

Since 2005, Carlisle has added another 130 acres of privately owned conservation land to its already impressive holdings. The 2013 Open Space and Recreation Plan references a number of opinion surveys that show Carlisle residents consider keeping the rural landscape of the town above almost anything else in terms of importance. Considering this, the role of CRAC is key in ensuring this goal is met and maintained.

Committee seeks new member

CRAC is seeking a new member. According to Lamere, three of the seven positions on the board are normally held by members of the following committees: Planning Board, Trails Committee, and ConsCom. Bush is the ConsCom representative. Because Lemere is on two of those (Planning and Trails), this opens up an extra at-large spot for an interested town resident. Positions are for renewable, one-year terms. Interested residents should attend a meeting and/or contact a sitting member or Willard.

Keating said that he became interested in volunteering shortly after moving to town nine years ago. “I was involved in an enforcement case where a CR was considered as part of the settlement. I didn’t know much about them at the time and wanted to learn more. Eight and a half years later, I have learned quite a lot.” Lamere described why he enjoys serving on the committee, “We are able to assist the town by monitoring CRs and because of that are able to access land that is normally private and inaccessible. It also provides a good excuse to get outside when one wouldn’t normally, with a group of very nice like-minded people.” ∆ [Edited 6-28-13 to remove duplicated text.]