Friday, March 12, 1999
Public meeting reveals pros and cons of planning board Warrant articles
The planning board received both encouragement and opposition at a rather sparsely attended March 8 public meeting on its proposed Open Space Neighborhood (OSN) bylaw. The proposal which will be presented at the May 4 Town Meeting would allow the clustering of single-family houses on parcels of ten or more acres, while setting aside 25 to 45 percent of the tract as open space.
An earlier, but nearly identical, article missed the two-thirds vote necessary for passage by only eight votes at the 1996 Town Meeting. Therefore, the board has orchestrated a wide-ranging campaign over the past few weeks to assure voter understanding and blunt the opposition.
In his opening statement, planning board spokesman Michael Epstein indicated that, in addition to full newspaper coverage, the board has sent copies of the bylaw to town boards and committees and to all citizens who have expressed active interest over the years. He pledged the board to work with others to refine OSN right up to and including a final required public hearing on April 12. One point that he and other board members have stressed is that Carlisle's long-standing, two-acre zoning bylaw is retained, and that OSN merely provides a little flexibility as to how it is applied.
Epstein almost immediately tackled an oft-heard question concerning the incentives a developer might have to choose the OSN route. Board members are convinced there would be substantial savings in infrastructure coststhose pertaining to roads and utilities. Perhaps more important, development engineers could design the subdivision to avoid sensitive features such as wetlands and trees and often the expense of blasting through Carlisle's challenging ledges.
Music to the board's ears was selectman Vivian Chaput's opening comment commending the board for "revitalizing this interesting and well-thought-out proposal, and for the public airing that is now in full swing. In answer to a follow-up question as to whether real estate agents, some of whom expressed opposition in 1996, had been asked for comments, Epstein nodded. However, he noted that the board has avoided talking to developers because they have a "natural tendency" to seek their own advantages. "We would like to try our version out first, rather than seek more developer incentives at this time," he said, but the board had informed the busy engineers at Stamski and McNary. The main objective, he indicated, was to make landowners comfortable with the proposal. Stressing that OSN is discretionary with both the town and the owner, he hoped that the bylaw might encourage more developers to talk with the board at the "conceptual plan" stage and come up with a design advantageous to all.
Two problematic articles
The discussion next turned to two problematic Warrant articles authorizing the planning board to increase the number of lots permissible under OSN, if one or more lots within the development were donated to the town for affordable housing. For each lot donated, the board would be empowered to increase the overall density by two lots up to a 25-percent ceiling. Although, up to this juncture, the board had indicated that it would move this and a second affordable housing authorization only if the OSN were passed at Town Meeting, Epstein indicated that they were very reluctant to move at all unless an alternate sponsor, more knowledgable about affordable housing issues, steps up to help frame and present the articles. Chaput thereupon came forward with an offer to bring the matter up at the selectmen's next meeting and see if the housing committee, for example, might agree to sponsor it. "We'll work on the alternate sponsor," she promised, "I think that's appropriate."
Chaput raised the feasibility of making the so-called bonus lot that would come to the town from the developer into a salable lot, so the town could perhaps sell it and thus acquire some scarce funding for construction or even purchase of affordable housing in another part of town. Indicating that this possibility had been raised by the Carlisle Land Trust, planning board member Michael Abend found the suggestion "intriguing." However, he emphasized, "This board is not knowledgable enough to come up with this sort of creative suggestion."
Addressing the selectmen, member Kate Reid indicated that it would be helpful if the board knew which way the town wants to go on affordable housing. "If we had a comprehensive approach we could more easily consider items like this," she insisted. Chaput admitted that the selectmen had not yet really discussed the matter.
Abend proceeded to harden the board's stance on the two sketchy affordable housing articles, noting that there were just too many possible options to be considered. Epstein also felt the issue too complicated to bring to a Town Meeting that already contained the OSN proposal. Not wishing to close the door totally, Abend then moved that , lacking a strong alternate committee or group sponsor for an affordable housing article in advance of the final closing date for the Warrant, the two place-holding articles would be removed.
The meeting concluded with an exchange between Epstein, Abend and realtor Brigitte Senkler, an outspoken 1996 critic of the original proposal. Questioning why there was any need for changing the present conservation cluster bylaw, Senkler challenged the assertion that developers could lower infrastructure costs significantly. Her chief objection was an aesthetic one. "Few clusters that I have seen are attractive," she said, and in any case, clusters are "unsuited to Carlisle." In order to make clusters aesthetically pleasing, she said the board would have to limit house size. The problem of huge houses grouped on smaller lots is intensified, in her view, in a town with no public sewers or water supply.
In rebuttal, Epstein referred Senkler to a chart showing what other towns with and without public utilities have done in this regard. He reemphasized the board's desire for more flexibility, particularly where wetlands, ledge and other natural features are encountered. With more options, he concluded, the board hoped to be able to negotiate with developers earlier in the process, and perhaps, as has happened with Buttrick Woods, come up with a more desirable layout.
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito