Friday, April 30, 1999
Article 14 et al: Acquisition of the Wang-Coombs Land and other articles
This article, which will be moved by the conservation commission with the backing of the board of selectmen and the finance committee, empowers the selectmen to acquire the 43-acre Wang-Coombs properties at the junction of Curve and Fiske Streets. The tract became available to the town under its right of first refusal to purchase properties being removed from Chapter 61A tax status.
The selectmen turned over its option to a citizen committee consisting of residents from the immediate neighborhood, the Carlisle Land Trust (CLT), new residents from the Tall Pines subdivision and volunteers from the town at large. Eleven supporters provided the $250,000 deposit required to hold the property while proposals were drafted for referral to the voters at Town Meeting.
The committee plan calls for the Carlisle Land Trust (CLT) to purchase all 43 acres. Thirty-two of those acres, containing ten ANR (buildable) lots, will be offered to the town for agricultural or conservation use at a gross cost of $2,150,000. This amount is expected to be reduced in the next two years by a $300,000 grant from the state, leaving a net purchase price to the town of $1,830,000. The CLT will cover the cost of the remaining 11 acres containing three ANR lots, which represents the difference between the $2,925,000 purchase offer made to owner Juliette Wang by developer Brian Hebb and the $2,150,000 gross cost to the town. The two or three remaining ANR lots will be developed by the Trust to help recover their $800,000 investment.
This article requires a two-thirds vote of approval at Town Meeting and a majority vote of approval for the debt exclusion at the election. For a home assessed at $400,000, the annual projected tax impact for this purchase is $120 decreasing to $60 over 19 years.
Pros on the acquisition
Supporters point to the position of the tract on the Priority 1 list in the town's Open Space and Recreation Plan (OS&R). A look at the criteria used to rank OS&R parcels suggests why. "Rurality" being the number 1 value identified by Carlisleans in the Master Plan, a double-weighted factor in the OS&R ranking is "vista." The Wang-Coombs land with its open field to the north and corn fields to the south represents one of only three such large open areas still in private hands in Carlisle. Also, its extensive frontage makes it a dominant feature along Curve Street. Since preservation of agricultural land as such is another OS&R criterion, Wang-Coombs is awarded full points on that score. Jack Valentine, who has grown alfalfa on the north field for almost 20 years, describes the land as "fantastic."
Next, the criteria rewarding connection with other conservation land and preservation of water resources are pluses for Wang-Coombs. The south parcel is contiguous with the 16-acre Swanson conservation land, and together they form part of a vast wetlands system that feeds Great Brook and includes the Cranberry Bog and Great Brook Farm State Park. According to abutter Steve Spang, the whole area has a high water level, and was once dammed to power a mill.
The criteria for size and wildlife habitat are also met with sightings of the blue-spotted salamander, a "species of special concern," and reported evidence of breeding in a vernal pool on the property.
As for the criterion on "vulnerability to development," the proof is in Hebb's offer to buy the property. The visibility of the land, along with its high water table, have reportedly discouraged some developers from bidding on the property. The nature of the soil would result in built-up foundations and eight-foot septic system mounds, or as abutter Brigitte Senkler once described it, "a field of huge Easter eggs."
Wang-Coombs supporters have welcomed the recently distributed "Growing Pains" study, an accounting of the relative costs of development as against land acquisition. The study concluded that at some point, new development costs more than the incremental tax revenue realized by the town. The logic is that growth drives the need to expand municipal services, particularly those related to the costs of new school construction, and "controlling the pace of growth is critical." One way to control growth is acquisition of land for conservation.
Wayne Davis, a Carlisle Land Trust member who has been instrumental in drafting the financial package, terms the proposal "a good deal." His appraisal came in answer to comments made during FinCom hearings to the effect that the per-lot price to the town is too high. According to his figures, with the $1,830,000 net cost to the town for ten lots, the final per-lot cost will be $183,000 or 19 percent below market price.
Cons pertain to finances
It is precisely here, in the area of financial implications that opponents sharpen their commentary. FinCom members recently stressed that taxpayers have not yet felt the effects of municipal construction that has already taken place. Such significant town projects as the Grant Building and the Banta-Davis athletic fields have not yet been bonded and their effects are due to hit the taxpayers this fall. Add the three-tiered override questions that could, if they all pass, add $445,862 to the bill. Then there are two other debt exclusion articles on the Warrant for a new pumper truck and Carlisle School heating system, plus the recently approved $1,489,067 for renovation and expansion of the Gleason Library.
FinCom chair Charlie Parker indicated that the committee has decided to move short-term debt to long-term debt to take advantage of the low interest rates. The cumulative effect of all these factors, Parker estimates, is that taxpayers may see a jump from the present $15.66 per thousand rate to $17.10 or about $500 on a $400,000 residence with this fall's tax bill. He, as well as other FinCom members, have publicly expressed concern that at some point in the not too distant future, taxpayers may reach the breaking point and refuse to vote for any overrides, no matter how critical.
Others, including Tom Bilotta, question the assertion that land acquisition will save money in the long run. Paraphrasing his FinCom colleague Phil Conti, the retired homeowner remarked that with all these good causes he may one day have to leave town to escape the tax bite. Said Bilotta, "I feel we need to keep a balanced community," and as can also be seen from "Growing Pains," when older Carlisleans move out of town, they are usually replaced by younger families, many with young children who increase the school population.
Finally many, among whom Bilotta includes himself, who support preservation of open space on principle, have questioned whether Wang-Coombs is the right purchase at the right time. "What if the Sorli or Valentine land becomes available in the near future, will there be any financial capability to negotiate an advantageous deal?"
Article 15: Accepting Wang-Coombs grants
This article permits the financial arrangements contained in the Carlisle Land Trust's proposal for the Wang-Coombs acquisition to go forward. Voters must authorize the conservation commission to make formal application for a state grant of $320,000 under the state's Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR) program. Approval has already been given by the APR committee, and the application will go to the state legislature for final action. Receipt of the grant is predicated on placing the town's 32 farm acres under permanent agricultural restriction. The article permits partial funding responsibility to be assumed by the CLT or any other public or private entity.
Article 21: Conservation Fund
This article was added to the Warrant when the $5 to $10 million serial bonding proposal for land acquisition was pulled at the last moment. An agreement between the selectmen and the finance committee left no provision for the conservation commission or any other town board to survey and appraise land parcels, offer good faith deposits to land owners or assist residents who have agreed to establish conservation restrictions on their property. Since Carlisle's Conservation Fund, which was authorized by state statute to provide town conservation commissions with those capabilities, presently stands at less than $70, the three sponsoring committees are asking for $100,000 to replenish the fund. At the election, this request will also require a majority vote of approval for the tax override assessment.
Article 22: Open Space Neighborhoods
Planning board chair Tara Hengeveld opened the April 12 public hearing on Open Space Neighborhoods (OSN) by summarizing the proposed bylaw amendment. Article 22 of the Warrant seeks to add a new Section 5.8 that will allow owners of ten acres or more of land to seek a special permit from the planning board to cluster single-family homes on individual lots while preserving the remainder of the parcel as open space.
Individual lot sizes may be reduced to between one-and-a-half and one acres, on a sliding scale in accordance with the amount of open space preserved, which may be from 20 percent to 45 percent of the entire tract. Frontage requirements may also be reduced for individual lots, but those lots must be located in the interior of the tract and cannot front on an existing public way.
Member Mike Epstein revealed that there are 56 parcels of ten acres or more left in Carlisle. Forty communities in Massachusetts have adopted open space bylaws and they are all alike in two ways. They allow the lots to be smaller than the ones required in a conventional subdivision, and they set aside the unused land with common ownershipeither by the town, a non-profit trust, or a homeowners' association (or any combination of the three).
Epstein explained that the Open Space Neighborhood is still considered a subdivision and will be reviewed as such by the other town boards. "Existing regulations remain in effect," he said. He emphasized that, whereas a subdivision is a right, an Open Space Neighborhood is permitted at the discretion of the planning board. "If someone comes in with a plan that doesn't make sense, we can say no."
David Kelch of Oak Knoll Road asked if the open space could be used for a community septic system. "Yes," replied Epstein. "It's not practical to have individual systems on some small lots, so it is a possibility." He went on to say in that case the land would be deeded to the homeowners' association. If the open space has no utilities, it would be given to the town.
Ron O'Reilly of Bedford Road feared that the houses recently built along Pope Road in Acton might be an example of cluster zoning. Epstein assured him that those houses are not in an Open Space Neighborhood, but are Approval Not Required (ANR) lots.
Frank Golis of Brook Street was concerned about where the open space would be located. Golis used the Buttrick Woods conservation cluster as an example of open space that is hidden behind the houses. Epstein confirmed that approval can be withheld if the open space is not in a reasonable location.
The board voted 5-0 to recommend the (OSN) bylaw as presented. Although the proposal did not pass muster last year, the planning board wants voters to again consider the proposal.
Article 23: Special permits for physicians
At the April 12 planning board meeting, David Kelch of the bylaw review committee presented Article 23 of the town Warrant which proposes to delete the words "physician, dentist" from existing Permitted Uses, Section 220.127.116.11.5 of the town bylaws. The committee proposes to add a new Section 18.104.22.168.5 to Uses Permissible on Special Permit that would establish the terms under which a special permit could be granted by the board of appeals for the use of a portion of a dwelling or an accessory building by a resident of the premises as a physician's or dentist's office. This would have the effect of requiring a special permit for a use that is currently a right in Residence Districts A and B.
Kelch explained that Carlisle has traditionally been very liberal in allowing accessory use, with up to three employees, on the premises. This amendment comes as a response to problems with parking and traffic, related specifically to physicians and dentists working from their homes. "There is nothing in the zoning bylaws to prevent this," stated Kelch. "Now they will have to get a special permit."
Board members immediately focused on what appeared to be discrimination against two professions. "Why do you single out physicians and dentists?" asked planning board member Dan Holzman. "I see milliners on the list of permissible occupations, but not web site designers. Why mention any profession? Either they're attracting traffic or they're not." Kelch cited two reasons for the selection: they wanted to make it easy to understand, and physicians and dentists have generated the most concern.
Planning board member Kate Reid envisioned a scenario where one member of the family is a psychiatrist and the other a psychologist. "One's a physician and the other isn't. One needs a special permit and the other doesn't," said Reid. "Why don't you regulate based on traffic in and out?" Building inspector Bob Koning, although not
questioning the logic, felt that regulations based on traffic flow would be very hard to monitor and enforce.
Planning board perplexed
Kelch defended the committee's choice as an attempt to solve a perplexing problem as simply as possible and give neighborhoods a chance to be heard. A more ambitious bylaw amendment would quickly be buried in complexity and enforcement. The planning board was equally perplexed and voted 4—1 to provide no recommendation. The negative vote belonged to Holzman who was against the bylaw proposal.
Article 24: Eliminating guest houses
One of the less controversial bylaw proposals presented to the planning board on April 12 was Article 24 presented by bylaw review committee member Bob Zielinski. He recommended that the town delete from Section 22.214.171.124.3 the words "Private family guest house," and "Dwelling unit for temporary occupancy by persons employed on the premises by the immediate family," in its entirety. This would eliminate the provisions for more than one dwelling on a single residential lot as a right.
"This is a holdover from the past when farm employees were provided with living quarters," explained Zielinski. "Now we have instances of two dwellings being located on one lot." Member Kate Reid received an affirmative response from Zielinski when she asked whether "grandfathering" will be allowed. "We're grandfathering the user, not the structure." The board unanimously voted 5—0 to recommend the proposed bylaw amendment.
Articles 25, 26: Limiting home expansions
Articles 25 and 26 are on the Warrant to have the town give direction to the board of appeals (BOA) on how they should interpret the existing 50 percent limitation on expansion of non-conforming houses. Both articles are meant to be considered together as options, with the intent that only one be adopted. Although the language is technical, briefly Article 25 would limit expansions of non-conforming houses (or homes on non conforming lots) to not more than 50 percent of the existing footprint of the house. Article 26 would allow expansion with no limits (except that the addition cannot make the house more nonconforming).
At the planning board public hearing, bylaw review committee member Bob Zielinski read the existing bylaw, which has recently caused confusion among those attempting to get BOA approval for expansion of a non-conforming structure. Bylaw 6.3 states that the BOA may authorize by special permit the extension or other enlargement of a non-conforming use of a building, structure or land, provided that no such extension shall be made which increases the total of all floor area devoted to such use by more than 50 percent.
"The meaning is lost in antiquity," said Zielinski. "It gets ambiguous and sticky. Both the owners and BOA are confused." With Article 25, the bylaw review committee attempts to clarify the wording so that the 50 percent limitation applies to all expansions of non-conforming structures and non-conforming uses. They also replaced "floor area" with "building footprint."
Why even have a 50 percent restriction? "There are some who see this as a way to maintain affordable housing and avoid mansionization," said Zielinski.
"Others would prefer that the 50 percent limit be removed. For them, we have Article 26." Article 26 states that the 50 percent limitation applies to all expansions of non-conforming structures and uses, "except expansion to single family homes for the purpose of expanding living space."
"I'm confused about the two choices," said Jerry Lerman of Stearns Street. "Does the second choice mean I can do whatever I want?" Hearing yes for an answer, Lerman quickly responded, "I strongly recommend the second option."
The planning board voted 4—0—1 against recommendation of the first option (Article 25) and 4—0—1 for recommendation of the second option (Article 26). Epstein abstained from both votes, based on his belief that the board of appeals should be involved in the decision since they would issue the special permit. The BOA has stated that they can enforce either option the town chooses, but, as the quasi-judicial body which interprets the bylaws, feels it is inappropriate to recommend either article.
Article 27, 28: Bylaw changes for bank
Article 27 includes "Bank or monetary institution" in a proposed bylaw Section 3.2.5, "Uses Permissible on Special Permit" in Residence District A. This new bylaw is proposed on behalf of the North Middlesex Bank and is a prerequisite to their building the new facility in a residential neighborhood.
North Middlesex Bank, whose main office is in Ayer, is a mutual savings institution. As a mutual bank, it does not issue stock and cannot be acquired nor targeted for takeover. Since BankBoston left town, municipal departments, businesses, and residents have had to travel to nearby towns for their banking needs. The bank plans to offer services such as safe deposit boxes, night depository, drive-up ATM and live tellers.
The proposed Carlisle branch will be located on Bedford Road on the site of the old Saint Irene Church. North Middlesex plans to raze the existing church and construct a new building on the 1.75acre site next to the post office. The bank now owns the property, having passed papers last December 18, and believes that this is the most appropriate location for the banking office.
Abutters oppose the location of a bank in a residential district and, in particular, the designation of District A. Others claim that the town survives perfectly well without a gas station or shopping center and doesn't need a bank either.
Thus far, the selectmen have not made a recommendation on this article. The planning board voted against the bylaw change.
Article 28, a companion to Article 27, modifies Section 7.6.1 of the zoning bylaws by changing the wording from "non-residential districts" to "non-residential uses." The amended bylaw thus states that for the purpose of administering the bylaw relating to non-residential uses, and to ensure the best use of all properties within the same district and for protection of the interests of adjoining property owners, a site plan shall be required that has been prepared by a professional architect or engineer, and which has the endorsement of the board of selectmen A new Section 126.96.36.199 adds that the endorsement is required prior to establishment or alteration of a business use by special permit in General Residence District A or B.
Consideration of Article 28 is necessary only if Article 27 is approved.
Article 29: Day care
The Carlisle zoning bylaw governing day care centers does not conform with Massachusetts state law. The town presently requires a day care center to obtain a special permit from the board of appeals, whereas the state does not. Article 29 proposes to remove "Nursery school or other agency for the day care of children" from the Section 3.2.2 list of "Uses Permissible on Special Permit".
In another section of the town bylaws, Article 29 proposes that "Day care center" be added to the list of permissible uses in section 3.2.1. This allows day care centers to exist as a matter of right, much the same as schools or churches. They are removed from the jurisdiction of the board of appeals and regulated by the state.
The change was recommended by town counsel and the planning board did not vote a recommendation.
Article 30: Greenough farmstead lease
The conservation commission and the selectmen are asking the voters to approve lease of the small farm complex on the Greenough conservation land for a period of five years in return for "in-kind services" with the possibility of a five-year extension of the lease. A Request for Proposal (RFP) has already been drafted in hopes of attracting a skilled and creative tenant for the homestead.
The commission's aim is to maximize restoration of a town asset with no out-of-pocket expenses to the town and with a minimum requirement for board oversight. It promotes stated town values as to vista, education and environmental quality and provides security for the homestead. The portion of the property involved includes the somewhat dilapidated farm house, the antique barn and three agricultural areas totaling about nine acres.
Under state law such a change in the use of conservation land requires, in addition to Town Meeting approval, the filing of a home rule petition with the Massachusetts General Court.
Article 31: Tall Pines gift
This article allows the town to accept a gift of a 2.99-acre lot on Barnes Place in the Tall Pines subdivision. The land has been conveyed by the Swanson family "with a perpetual restriction to be used for conservation purposes only."
The conservation commission calls the voters' attention to the environmental value of the tract which serves as a strategic buffer between the subdivision and the 300-year-old pine trees in Tall Pines State Park. They are also taking this opportunity to express the town's appreciation to the donors, Swanson Realty Trust, JMS Trust, Susan and Peter Trust, signed by John M. Swanson.
Article 32: Ice Pond
Ice Pond Road is once again up for acceptance as a public way. Nicole Bloomfield of Aberdeen Drive, a private way off of Ice Pond Road, appeared at the April 15 public hearing to explain the latest status. Acceptance of Ice Pond Road was tabled at last year's Town Meeting due to concern about the easement into Great Brook State Park. The easement crosses a wetland and is not easily passable. While Aberdeen Drive offers an inviting entry into the park, the residents of Aberdeen Drive collectively own the roadway and are reluctant to grant passage since they bear the liability associated with its public usage.
"We have taken steps to make it easier to pass through Aberdeen," said Bloomfield. "The 'No Trespassing' sign is no longer at the entrance." Blue trail- markers have been posted to guide people, although the easement still goes off the roadway into wetland and brush. Chair Vivian Chaput asked, "Can a townsperson walk on Ice Pond and Aberdeen and get into the state park?" Bloomfield's affirmative answer was tentative and unconvincing.
Chaput provided some background on the controversial easement. Ice Pond is a conservation cluster and, as such, enjoyed an additional lot for development. In return, the town was to receive an easement into the state park. However, the easement provided by the developer was not on a paved surface, or even on dry ground, but rather through a swamp.
Julia Krapf of Ice Pond Road questioned why the acceptance of Ice Pond Road is contingent on the resolution of the Aberdeen Drive easement issue. "It has nothing to do with the viability of Ice Pond Road," she surmised. Indeed, the planning board issued a certificate of completion of the Ice Pond Road definitive subdivision plan in October, 1997, and approved unanimously a motion to recommend that the board of selectmen "lay out" or approve Ice Pond Road.
"If the town accepts Ice Pond Road without getting a proper easement, we'll never get it," reasoned Chaput. Searching for a compromise, she asked if a trail could be built through the wetland where the easement does exist. Bloomfield believed it possible, but it would require conservation commission approval to build a boardwalk and cut trees in the wetland and someone would have to pay for it. "A legal easement must be put in place before I would support accepting Ice Pond Road," declared Chaput.
The board unanimously voted to lay out Ice Pond Road, but Chaput expressed doubt that the townspeople would be any more benevolent than last year if the easement is not resolved. The other selectmen planned to visit the trail site.
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito