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Planning Board guides Carlisle’s growth

by Priscilla Stevens

“The Planning Board,” says its Chair David Freedman, “is one of the most important boards in town and performs a function that intersects with other boards; it’s a linchpin for much of what goes on in town.” Being in the middle of town government is only one reason Freedman enjoys the Planning Board. “Also, I’m a designer by trade, so I like planning, designing, thinking about systems, analysis and coordination. Finally, I’m impressed all the time with the level of and attention to detail that these people give to the work. This is a great bunch of people.”

The Planning Board is currently composed of Freedman, Vice-chair Michael Epstein, Kent Gonzales, Marc Lamere, Nathan Brown, Tom Lane and Jeffrey Johnson. The board’s most immediate and pressing challenge is to fill two openings in the next town election, as Epstein and Gonzales retire.

Board’s role

The Planning Board’s work is linked directly with the appearance and safety of Carlisle. The board reviews development plans, reviews and approves subdivision plans and grants special permits for conservation clusters, wireless facilities and other projects. They provide site plan review and support for the Board of Selectmen; they review bylaws and regulations that pertain to development and can endorse approval-not-required plans like the division of lots.

In addition, they hold public hearings regarding changes to zoning and to our scenic roads. They may grant consent for tree and stone wall removal, for example, recommending whatever compensatory work is necessary to minimize the impact on a scenic road or on current zoning. Freedman says that the most recent hearing of this type concerned the school building project, which needs to move the school driveway along Church Street to another location that would necessitate cutting some trees. The project plan includes planting trees to compensate for the ones lost, and the Planning Board ensured that town-established standards for driveway construction are upheld in the plan.

Freedman adds that the Planning Board is represented on other town boards and committees as well, such as the Long Range Capital Requirements Committee and the Community Preservation Committee. It is clear that members of the Planning Board have a finger on the pulse of all of the building, development and conservation projects in town.

“Because we are a seven-member board [large in comparison to other town boards],” Freedman says, “the burden of all these activities is spread among members and made easier. We try to assign tasks according to interest or expertise.”

The board typically meets on the second and fourth Mondays of the month for three or four hours. Freedman said, “The time it’s necessary to devote to the board varies according to the number of tasks and according to members’ available time. If someone is not available at a particular time, there are enough of us around to cover until that member returns.” George Mansfield, Carlisle’s Planning Administrator, adds that having a large board means that the board stimulates members, who “feed off each other’s ideas and expertise.”

Long-range planning goals

The board faces some important general and specific challenges over the next few years. One, Freedman says, is that “we haven’t been able to spend a lot of time actually planning for the town lately. We have been spending the bulk of our time on individual projects. We need to give more attention to planning comprehensively.”

Mansfield agrees, noting that, “we haven’t updated the Master Plan and taken it to Town Meeting for approval since 1995. The Community Development Plan of 2003 was not complete and so was not brought to Town Meeting. We are employing some elements of it, but funding has really not permitted us to look at concentrating on these plans. We need to hire outside expertise to help us. That will be a big challenge over the next few years.”

Over the coming year he expects the board will work on a new noise bylaw with the Board of Health as well as look at tailoring bylaws for low- and moderate-income housing. He added that an Affordable Housing Production Plan has been approved, “but has not really seen much use, so it may need to be looked at.” Mansfield referred specifically to a lack of response to the Affordable Accessory Apartments part of the plan. He thinks that the whole plan needs to be reconsidered to make its components more attractive to potential builders and users.

Mansfield says that the Planning Board is a great place for anyone who has an interest in the town and its future. “Over the years,” he says, “we’ve had a variety of professions represented on the board: architects, engineers, lawyers, designers, people with IT skills. Civil and environmental engineers contribute a good deal of expertise, of course, but mostly we need people who can read and understand plans and overall designs.”

Mansfield encourages anyone with an interest in shaping Carlisle’s future to run for the Planning Board. “My office,” he says, “is here to provide background and guidance for all members and potential members of the board.”

[Ed note: The Mosquito will publish a series of profiles introducing town boards. See also profile of the Board of Selectmen on page 5. Those interested in running for election can still get their name on the ballot. Candidates must obtain petition papers from the Town Clerk, collect 27 signatures and return it by 5 p.m. on Monday, March 14. After that, ask the Town Clerk for details about running a write-in campaign.]