Friday, April 9, 1999
Housing authority prepares request for Conant Land units
The Carlisle Housing Authority is focusing all its attention on one article on the Warrant that will be facing voters at the May 4 Town Meeting. This article asks the town for $30,000 for the purpose of planning and design of up to 12 units of affordable housing on the town-owned Conant Land. The housing authority met on March 30 to discuss ways to raise voter awareness of the article and to iron out details of their presentation at the Town Meeting.
Chair Marty Galligan opened the meeting by announcing that he had successfully completed the requisite first step in any municipal building project in Carlislehe called Ed Sonn. Although Sonn is presently involved in the proposed library renovation project and prior to that chaired the Town Hall building committee and assisted with construction of the new Saint Irene Church, the Woodland Road resident graciously agreed to attend the housing authority meeting as consultant. Sonn began by distributing a detailed list of action items involved in the planning, design and development, and building phase of an affordable housing construction project.
The original Warrant article for the proposed Conant Land project called for $40,000, but has since been reduced to $30,000 by the finance committee in its determination to balance the budget. The appropriation will cover the cost of preliminary site plans, septic and well testing, schematic drawings of possible multi-family townhouses, and establishing how the town could afford to build and manage such a development. This project is derived from the affordable housing plan for the Conant Land that was defeated at Town Meeting in 1990. Some of the engineering costs incurred in 1990, such as the septic system location, need not be duplicated in the new project.
The impetus for this revived interest in affordable housing can be traced directly back to developer Bill Costello. State law Chapter 774 requires each town to have ten percent of their housing units subsidized and held as affordable. Carlisle has only 1.21 percent affordable housing, consisting of 18 units in Carlisle Village. Using a comprehensive building permit, Costello hopes to override Carlisle zoning laws and build 16 houses on 14 acres on East Riding Drive. Four of these houses would be sold at a price that makes them "affordable.
The housing authority believes that the cheapest and best way to reduce numbers of this type of development is for the town to take the lead in affordable housing. "Having a town-sponsored group build affordable housing will not prevent developers from doing comprehensive permit projects, but it will reduce their probability of success when they go to the state for project approval," explained Galligan. "Are we going to be in control," added member Dorothea Kress, "or the developers?"
Galligan believes that Carlisle is ill-served by having a minimum wealth requirement for moving into town. The housing authority learned that of the 119 full-time permanent town employees, 39 of them are earning less than $40,000 per year. Residents who have been forced to move out of town because of economic reversals or divorce might also find affordable housing a viable option. Although there's a great desire for more affordable elderly housing, "It's unlikely that we can get state subsidies and credit towards the ten percent number for elderly housing until we've provided a substantial amount of affordable family housing," said Galligan.
Housing authority members discussed the alternatives of creating rental units or selling them with a deed restriction that sets a permanent limit on any future sales price. Rental units allow more control over maintenance and long-term affordability, but management tasks are substantial. If the town should choose rental units, Sonn recommends a rental management agency for maintenance and rent collection. "Another alternative is a co-op," he suggested. "Lincoln manages some of their affordable housing by co-ops where residents own shares and have to sell them back if they leave." Sonn also related an example of affordable housing in Weston that was built privately and later turned over to the town.
Making the project economically feasible by taking advantage of subsidy programs may also limit the size. Construction of Carlisle Village 18 years ago was funded by Farmer's Home Bank and Housing and Urban Development (HUD), but it was as large a project as Farmer's Home was willing to fund. "We may find ourselves in a similar situation," said Galligan. "Our intent is to build the smallest project (6-12 units) that is economically viable."
Member Hal Sauer stressed that any development of the Conant Land will have to be sensitive to natural features such as Castle Rock. He cited other Conant issues such as fire protection and believes that "access for fire engines (up Rockland Road) will be difficult." Sauer went on to question whether the building has to be concentrated on the Conant Land. "Is there any other place to do this? Disperse the units around town? How about the Gage lot off Ember Lane?"
"We've got more work to do before Town Meeting," said Galligan. He scheduled another housing authority meeting in two weeks, on April 13, and a final wrap-up on April 27. Galligan encourages anyone with questions or suggestions to contact a member of the housing authority. He said he is available to get together some evening with any group of concerned residents.
Looking beyond the planning phase, Galligan foresees the authority coming back to Town Meeting in the fall of 1999 to ask for about five acres of Conant Land. "Hopefully, this would be the last expense to the town," he concluded. "We expect that we can get a loan to cover construction and another to pay off the construction loan and serve as the long-term mortgage."
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito