Friday, April 16, 1999
ConsCom backs open space neighborhood proposal
The planning board pocketed significant support for its Open Space Neighborhood (OSN) Warrant article last week. Although the vote was not unanimous, four of five conservation commissioners present at an April 8 meeting agreed to back the measure when it is presented at the May 4 Town Meeting. Commissioner Tricia Smith abstained.
The planning board has proposed an article that would allow them to approve a subdivision having its lots and roadways concentrated in a portion of the overall parcel rather than spread out more or less evenly throughout. A neighborhood developed in this way would have no more than one home for every two acres, as specified in the existing bylaw, but these houses would be clustered on 60 to 80 percent of the parcel, with the remainder left as open space.
Prior to taking the formal vote to approve the Warrant article, ConsCom members quizzed planning board representative Kate Reid rather closely on issues that concerned them personally or that they had heard raised by others. Chair Jo Rita Jordan noted that many people are still concerned that the plan might allow more houses overall and increase construction density. Reid repeated the board's many assurances that there could be no increases in overall density. Smith then indicated a major reason for her skepticism, namely, concern about undue concentration of water and septic system utilities. "We want to avoid the situation we have in the [town] center where small lots cause problems in replacing septic systems," she declared. Reid replied that the planning board believed common septic systems could help solve that. In addition, she emphasized that utility specifications would be negotiated on a site-by-site basis in cooperation with the board of health, and that any questionable plans would not be accepted by the town. Further, she reminded her listeners that OSN is a discretionary permit that would require a two-thirds vote of the board.
Smith next asked if there would be a limit on the percentage of the designated open space that might consist of wetlands. While answering that the percentage of wetland in the open space would "normally" not exceed its percentage in the tract as a whole, Reid emphasized that flexibility in that matter, as in lot size, would allow the board to protect wetland areas more effectively.
Commissioner Christine Bopardikar was curious as to whether the present requirement for a specific elliptical dimension to each building lot would be changed. The ellipse was originally specified to prevent undue lot irregularity. The answer was no.
Several members expressed concern as to the amount of control the board would retain in cases where developers met all the stated requirements for an OSN but where circumstances suggested that OSN was not the most desirable outcome. Could they still deny the application? Reid reiterated her reminder that because this would be a special permit, the answer was yes.
Smith indicated that the commission would like to see developers forced to create recreational facilities as part of any subdivision application. Reid countered that, as desirable as that might seem, the board could not do it legally. All they can do is ask that space be reserved to allow either abutters or the town to develop such facilities.
Queried about realtor reaction to OSN, Reid reported receipt of only one comment, and that was negative. However, she noted that Stamski and McNary, the engineers who represent so many developers here, "seemed to like the approach." When Bopardikar made the successful motion to support the article, Smith abstained with the quiet comment that she "had not been impressed" with the results in other towns that have used the cluster approach in order to save open space.
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito