Friday, February 12, 1999
Land committee proposes multi-million-dollar acquisition strategy
At the Annual Town Meeting the municipal land committee will request approval for a Warrant article which would give town officials serial bonding authority for approximately $10 million for land acquisition. In a telephone interview, chair Burt Rubenstein outlined the committee's proposal as it had been conveyed at their sparsely attended public hearing on February 1.
Rubenstein explained that the Warrant article, which proposes the creation of a municipal land fund, will allow town officials to act quickly to negotiate for desirable parcels of land as they become available. If two-thirds of the voters at the May Town Meeting and a majority at the town election are willing to grant officials such authority, only a simple majority at a Town Meeting and no election would be required when a specific parcel is named. Rubenstein said this would save time, allowing officials to expedite the process and providing them with some funds, possibly $500,000, for associated expenses in advance of a purchase, such as site plans, surveys and tests.
While the $10 million sum may sound high, Rubenstein said it "was not nearly enough." As an example of how quickly the price of land adds up, he referred to the cost of the O'Rourke Farm at $1.8 million, the proposed Wang-Coombs acquisition with a price tag of $2.7 million and the White property, currently under consideration, at $350,000. Rubenstein added that the fund would be replenished, to some extent, by limited development and grants.
Other funding sources for land acquisition are scarce, according to Rubenstein. The town was "lucky" with O'Rourke, he said, but many grant programs remain unfunded. The legislature is considering the Community Preservation Act, which would allow towns to tack a surcharge on real estate bills for land acquisition but the bill still has to be approved and then the town would have to decide whether it is appropriate. Lastly, Rubenstein said there are private donations, parcels such as the Banta-Davis Land, and conservation restrictions, all of which are greatly appreciated but cannot be expected to fulfill the town's needs.
The committee placed the town's demand for land in two categories: for conservation and everything else. The group viewed conservation as the single largest user. And when looking at the big picture of the town, open space requires more in pure size, Rubenstein explained. Included in the second category, Rubenstein said that a preliminary demographic study indicates a new school campus may be necessary in five years, but they are hopeful that the Banta-Davis Land would be used. The group anticipates a need for land to develop affordable and senior housing. Rubenstein said the library should have additional land for parking and the center of town also needs more parking. The extended day program would like a permanent home. Conservation restrictions and easements are desirable to continue trails and bike/foot paths. Looking to the future, the recreation commission envisions a community center, more playing fields, an ice skating rink and a pool. The board of health has suggested land acquisition plans should include provision for a public water supply and public waste treatment facility.
Predicting the future
When some of these facilities will be needed is conjecture. However, a committee including former FinCom members Nancy Pierce, Beth Hambleton and selectman John Ballantine has compiled some demographic information which should prove helpful in making some predictions. With the current population of the town approximately 4,500 with 1,536 homes, Rubenstein suggested that a low-end estimate on build-out based on the amount of remaining buildable land might be 6,000 residents in 2,100 homes, medium would be 7,000 residents in 2,500 homes and the high end, based on large-scale developments under the comprehensive permit scenario, cannot be estimated. A comprehensive permit would allow a developer to bypass local zoning regulations, including two-acre zoning, because the town has not fulfilled the state's ten percent affordable housing mandate.
Rubenstein said town officials would like to manage the growth of the town. A new school with an estimated cost of $15 million would be the single largest expense the town might have to incur, he said. School enrollment has been increasing at a five percent rate for the last five years. If it appears school enrollment will peak and then decline after five years, construction of a new school might be avoided.
As for what land the town might be interested in acquiring, Rubenstein suggested the committee will consider land which is ranked first or second in the Open Space and Recreation Report. However, he said they will also be looking at land-locked parcels which could be accessed and developed if a house is sold, similar to what happened at the proposed development site off East Riding Drive.
Asked about the audience reaction to the committee's proposal, Rubenstein described the group as "friends of the committee" and said most of the discussion centered on affordable housing and comprehensive permits.
At their meeting on February 11, the municipal land committee was expected to finalize the exact amount to be requested in the Warrant article for the May Town Meeting.
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito