Friday, February 26, 1999
Planning board seeks input on open space and affordable housing bylaws
Seeking to head off any opposition at the May 4 Annual Town Meeting, planning board members have initiated an early dialogue with their conservation commission colleagues. Planning board chair Tara Hengeveld gave an annotated briefing on the board's proposed spring Warrant articles at the commission's February 11 meeting, and strongly encouraged comments and recommendations.
The most far-reaching article was a revised version of the Open Space Neighborhood (OSN) plan that missed Town Meeting approval by a mere eight votes two years ago. Its stated purpose is to help conserve open land for scenic values, recreation, agricultural use, environmental and water resource protection and, in general, "preservation of Carlisle's traditional New England landscape."
The planning board believes these goals would be advanced by allowing the clustering of single-family homes on parcels of ten or more acres, while setting aside 25 to 45 percent of the tract as open space. The maximum number of dwellings allowed would not exceed "the number of lots which could reasonably be expected under a conventional subdivision plan" or the number of houses that could be built on the "developable area" of the parcel (eliminating wetlands and other restricted space) divided by two acres. Size requirements for the lots would be reduced on a sliding scale determined by the percentage of the tract dedicated to open space. Hengeveld pointed out that the new OSN proposal increases the amount of open space required to reduce lot size.
The second and third articles, which would be moved only if the first one passes, reflect the town's increasing concern about affordable housing. This concern has increased recently as it has become apparent that the lack of such units leaves the town vulnerable to developer threats to seek so-called "comprehensive permits." These are permits that may sometimes be obtained from the state, bypassing local bylaws, in towns that are not meeting, or at least attempting to meet, the state requirement that ten percent of the housing in a town be classified as affordable.
With the threat of dense development in mind, the second of the proposed articles titled Optional Special Provisions for Affordable Housing would authorize the planning board to increase the number of lots permissible under an OSN proposal, if one or more lots within the development were donated to the town for affordable housing. The term affordable housing is defined as units to be sold or rented to families earning 70 to 120 percent of the county median income. For each such lot donated, the planning board would be able to increase the overall density by two lots, up to a ceiling of 25 percent, and reduce the required open space. The third article would amend the zoning bylaws to allow for the development of affordable housing within the town.
As chair of the body responsible for maintenance of large tracts of municipal property, Jo Rita Jordan launched the discussion by asking who would be responsible for the upkeep of the potentially numerous open space parcels. Hengeveld indicated three possible scenarios. The land could be conveyed to the town or its conservation commission. It could remain with an owners' association, especially if any portion of the open space were to be used for septic systems, in which case maintenance requirements would be specified by the board in advance. Thirdly, it may be conveyed to a non-profit conservation organization.
Commissioner Tricia Smith guessed that most developers would prefer the second option, which would permit rather broad use of the open space. Hengeveld replied that only five percent could be paved for such uses as bicycle paths or pedestrian walks, and that septic system easements would require board approval. Such approval would be granted only when board members were convinced that the proposed usage would enhance the stated purposes of the OSN.
The possibility of septic systems being permitted within portions of the open space underlined the need for close coordination of planning board rules and regulations with those of the board of health, particularly as pertained to shared septic systems. Smith expressed unease about the possible effects of septic system concentration on water quality. Hengeveld responded that she was more concerned about wells possibly being too close together in higher density developments. It was clear that this subject will come up for further discussion.
A question about successful and unsuccessful examples of open space neighborhoods in other towns brought comments on Pope Road in Acton, Bartkus Farm in Concord and Hayes Farm on the Concord line. It was duly noted that aesthetics would be an important consideration in gaining support at Town Meeting.
When commissioner Claire Wilcox asked why developers would be inclined to follow the OSN route, Hengeveld noted the reduction in expensive road and utility construction. Wilcox in turn noted her distaste for huge houses close together and taking up practically the whole lot. The planning board chair doubted that the town would be willing to limit size. However, member Christine Bopardikar suggested the possibility of discouraging construction in 100-foot wetland buffer zones by levying a charge on square footage.
Hengeveld assured the commissioners that the percentage of wetland to upland in open space areas would correspond to that found in the building areas. Her planning board partner Kate Reid felt that in some cases it might be environmentally preferable to negotiate that ratio.
Turning to the affordable housing articles, Hengeveld said the items as currently written followed the Acton model. They do not at present address the issue of multiple dwellings within a single unit as is the case at Bartkus Farm. They will provide for town control as far as access, buyer qualifications, etc. are concerned.
The presentation concluded with an appeal for conservation commission input at the board's scheduled public hearing March 8 at 7:30 p.m., and for support at Town Meeting. Said Reid, "We'd like the comments now rather than then."
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito