Friday, April 2, 1999
Land committee asked to reduce $10M request
Daunted by the cumulative impact of the financial decisions facing voters at the upcoming Special and Annual Town Meetings, the selectmen have asked the municipal land acquisition committee to reduce its $10 million bonding authorization article. According to selectman Burt Rubenstein, the committee will be encouraged to lower its sights to an amount in the $5 to $7 million range at its April 1 meeting.
In the meantime, an apparent change in emphasis in the same Warrant article for the May Town Meeting caused some consternation at the March 24 conservation commission meeting. Their representative on the land committee, Christine Bopardikar, indicated that in addition to dropping the commission's backup Warrant article that called for transfer of between $300,000 and $500,000 into the conservation fund should the larger umbrella bonding authorization fail, the wording of the current bonding article would allow the selectmen to draw on a $500,000 portion for land appraisals, surveys, deposits etc., allotting no monies to the conservation fund. ConsCom had agreed to the removal of the backup item, but had anticipated that the funding approved for appraisal and deposits would go to their account which is currently down to a balance of $4,000. Said Bopardikar, "This wording has the technical effect of depriving us of responsibilities assigned by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts."
Commissioner Steven Hinton said it was his understanding that no funds could be assigned and held in the General Fund or any other town coffer with the exception of the state-established conservation fund. Chair Jo Rita Jordan expressed concern that the less direct approach being adopted might lead to tardy research and missed appraisal activities on parcels being readied for sale on the brisk real estate market. Commissioner Tricia Smith added that she found the selectmen's decision surprising owing to the fact that ConsCom historically has been scrupulous about consulting with the selectmen and going to the town for voter approval, even when such actions were not legally required. In spite of their apparent disappointment at the present wording of the article, commissioners were clearly reluctant to create a breach in what needs to be a solid front of support for the bonding article.
A telephone call to Rubenstein disclosed the reasoning behind the final format of the article. The decision to seek authorization for the selectmen to expend $500,000 of the total bonding authorization for surveys, appraisals and deposits on land was worded that way to permit the board to access funding for land acquisition activities relative to a broader range of municipal land needs. "Although we anticipate that the majority of the funds expended will be for conservation and recreation purposes, we did not want to have to go back to a Town Meeting if other needs arose," he explained Rubenstein was clear that both town counsel and bond counsel had approved the adopted wording.
At the same ConsCom meeting, a second major land acquisition proposal, which would authorize purchase of the Wang-Coombs land on Curve Street was detailed by Carlisle Conservation Foundation member Wayne Davis. Commissioner Hinton has agreed to move the Warrant article at May Town Meeting and Davis will present the financial recommendations arrived at after many weeks of research and negotiation.
The first article will authorize the selectmen to purchase the Wang-Coombs property for purposes of conservation and/or agricultural use; it would be managed by the conservation commission. The second would permit the raising of funds and issuance of bonds. It would allow the town to apply to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for partial reimbursement and/or "help others share the cost of the purchase."
The asking price for the 43 acres has been pegged at $2.7 million. Approximately 30 acres will be placed under permanent agricultural restriction. Included in the restricted area are 16 acres to the north of Curve Street at its junction with Fiske Street. Two parcels of five acres each in the 28-acre "cornfield" to the south of Curve Street will be sold for development at $329,000 apiece, bringing the expected cost down to $2.1 million. WhYJohn Swanson has the right of first refusal on another two-acre lot. Is this a swap for O'Rourke funds?
Davis, who has been active in putting together the package, feels that the likelihood of a state grant of $10,000 per acre for the 30 acres under the Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR) program is high. This would bring another $300,000 toward the purchase price, lowering the likely total cost to $1.8 million.
Commissioners had shown concern about two issues, the first having to do with the permanence of the conservation restrictions (CRs) and the second with the usages allowed under APR. Davis reassured them that once the town registers the restrictions, they will be permanent no matter who may buy part or all of the land in the future. Finally, they learned that trails can be maintained under APR and that the town would have considerable flexibility in how usages were allotted.
Following the meeting, Hinton confirmed his strong support for the articles and stressed his determination that voters receive a straightforward statement of the issues involved and of their financial impact.
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito