The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, April 23, 1999


After debate, which officials support Wang-Coombs purchase?

The aftermath of the frantic last-minute warrant Article accord between the selectmen and the finance committee, established two apparent facts. Both the board and the committee will support the Warrant article calling for the town to purchase the Wang-Coombs property, and the $5 million bonding authorization will be dropped from the Warrant. With that noted, agreement among the individual players involved ends abruptly.

When forced to choose between the two articles by finance committee members who had voted to support neither article, both selectmen Michael Fitzgerald and Burt Rubenstein voted to retain the bonding proposal while colleagues John Ballantine, Douglas Stevenson and Vivian Chaput elected to support Wang-Coombs. However, both FitzGerald and Rubenstein have since made it clear that, as individuals, they continue to support Wang-Coombs. Said Fitzgerald, "I supported it from the beginning; I wanted both and I feel it was short-sighted to take one off." Maintaining that the concept of serial bonding has been misunderstood, Fitzgerald pointed out that bonding authorization does not mean immediate commitment of funds. "I'd like to see financial analyses and solid data to support statements that we couldn't do both," he commented.

As for Rubenstein, he reiterated his "wholehearted support" for Wang-Coombs commenting that he voted as he did merely to convey the importance he attached to both proposals. "We [the selectmen] intend to bring up the issue of serial bonding at Town Meeting, making it clear that, although it is being dropped for the spring Warrant, it will be moved again in the fall."

Asked for confirmation of the FinCom vote of five to nothing to support Wang-Coombs, chair Charlie Parker, who had abstained in the six to nothing first round vote to withhold approval, explained the committee's about-face this way. The majority had felt that, faced with a $400,000 to $500,000 override this year, on top of the vote to fund the library expansion, the timing was bad for adding two more large items. When the selectmen reacted with disbelief at the double rejection and emphasized the commitment they felt had been made to private citizens who put up a $250,000 deposit to hold the property with full expectation of unanimous support, FinCom members agreed that the town's word should be honored.

Parker went on to assure the Mosquito that the majority of the FinCom members do favor serial bonding, and that they will back it when it is brought up again, probably in the fall. When contacted by telephone, members Tom Bilotta and Tony Allison expressed general agreement with Parker's assessment of the about-face, but Bilotta stuck by previously reported declarations that in his opinion, "This year's Warrant is fiscally irresponsible." Allison was less blunt, but said he felt the serial bonding approach would provide greater flexibility than piecemeal acquisition and called for more emphasis on limited development to bring land acquisition closer to a self-funding operation.

The Wang-Coombs proposal

With serial bonding off the table and Wang-Coombs on, perhaps it's time to recapitulate the precise terms of the proposal and to look at the make-up of the ad hoc committee that has drafted the final proposal. The original group came from the immediate neighborhood but was later joined by residents from the Tall Pines subdivision, the Carlisle Land Trust and an influx of volunteers from around townover 50 people in all. The committee drew up a preliminary approach which was presented to the selectmen and other town bodies who gave their approval for assignment of the town's right of purchase to the land trust. A group of 11 citizens put up the $250,000 deposit required to hold the property, so that a concrete plan for limited development, agricultural preservation and conservation could be crafted and presented to the voters for approval.

The proposal that emerged from this process calls for the land trust to purchase the full 43 acres located on both sides of Curve Street at its junction with Fiske Street. Of the 43 acres, 32 will be offered to the town to be placed under conservation or agricultural restriction. The remaining 11 acres are to be developed by the land trust to help defray the purchase cost, with the trust assuming the development risk. A grant of $10,000 per acre or $320,000 has been approved by the state department of agriculture's committee on grants, but is still subject to legislative approval. Carlisle's grant is in the queue but probably cannot be recovered in under two years.

Developer Brian Hebb of Westford has offered owner Juliette Wang $225,000 per lot for 13 ANR (Approval Not Required) lots (which require minimum town board approval) for a total of $2,925,000. The town would have to meet Hebb's price. Ten of those ANR lots could be contained in the 32 acres offered to the town. At ten lots per lot price of $225,000 minus a $100,000 contribution from the land trust and a limited development subsidy, the immediate purchase price comes to $2,125,000. Then, the trust is anticipating a $320.000 agricultural preservation grant, for a net cost to the town of $1,830,000 for the 32 acres or $183,000 per ANR lot. The 11 acres held by CLT would contain two and possibly three of the ANR lots, which would be developed to help defray the $800,000 cost differential (between the developer's price and the town purchase) which will be assumed by the trust.

1999 The Carlisle Mosquito