Friday, May 14, 1999
Most bylaw changes shot down at Town Meeting
Town Meeting continued into a third night after two previous sessions on May 4 and May 5 managed to cover only 21 of the 36 articles. "We have a lot of fun articles tonight," announced moderator Marshall Simonds. "And we intend to finish tonight." Voters, who had loosened their purse strings and previously approved expenditures requiring over $3 million in overrides, suddenly became stingy with bylaw amendments at the May 11 meeting.
Reaction to the Open Space Neighborhood (OSN) bylaw amendment in Article 22 was an omen of things to come from the over 200 gathered voters. Planning board members Michael Abend and Michael Epstein gave a presentation of the OSN highlights. The new section 5.8 would allow owners of ten acres or more to seek a special permit to cluster homes while preserving the remainder of the parcel as open space.
Voters were concerned that individual lot sizes can be reduced to one-and-one-half acres and even one acre if 45 percent of the entire tract is preserved as open space. Epstein stressed that this is not an "as of right" and that an OSN would be permitted only at the discretion of the planning board. "The OSN is still considered a subdivision and will be reviewed as such by the other town boards."
Dave Duren of Bedford Road asked if the public would be allowed access to the open space. "Yes," Epstein replied. "When the land is deeded to the town, it can be accessed by the community." But then came questions about location of the septic systems of the one-acre lots. The two board members admitted the impracticality of individual systems on small lots and that community septic systems might be located on the open land. The land would then be deeded to a homeowners' association since the town would not want responsibility for the utilities.
Brigitte Senkler of Curve Street delivered the coup de grace. "I've seen these open space neighborhoods in other towns and they are not very attractive," she commented. "Whatever land is preserved will be overpowered by the ugliness of community septic systems, etc." Then she uttered the words that strike fear in the hearts of all Carlisle residents. "Once you allow clusters, the next step is comprehensive projects." Of the 211 votes, only 120 were in favor and the OSN amendment failed to pass with the requisite two-thirds majority.
Article 23 caused some concern because it requires physicians and dentists to obtain a special permit to maintain an office in their residence. Several townspeople expressed misgivings about this apparent discrimination against the medical profession. David Kelch of the bylaw review committee explained that most complaints involve physicians and dentists who have a steady flow of clientele. This reasoning appealed to the voters' logic and the amendment passed by the requisite two-thirds majority.
The mood then turned sour as the next four articles went down to ignoble defeat. Bylaw review committee member Bob Zielinski failed to convince voters that a "private family guest house" should no longer be permitted. This would eliminate the provisions for more than one dwelling on a single residential lot as a right. Voters saw the second dwelling unit as an answer to the need for low-income housing and as a way to add diversity to the town. As Dave Duren so succinctly put it, "If you want diversity, some blue collar people,....we've been on the endangered species list in Carlisle for over 30 years. This is a way to save the blue-collared worker." Article 24 failed to receive even a simple majority vote and was defeated.
Articles 25 and 26 were confusing when they were first proposed, remained confusing after being explained by Zielinski, and even the board of selectmen could not produce any worthwhile guidance to the confused voters. The origin of the 50 percent limitation on expansion of non-conforming houses is lost in antiquity. The two proposed articles provided alternative solutions, one of which continued to limit expansion to 50 percent while the other removed the limitation.
Marilyn Harte of Estabrook Road spoke in favor of maintaining the 50 percent limit. "We should preserve the small houses in Carlisle. This is a way to maintain diversity," she reasoned. "Big houses look strange in a neighborhood of smaller houses." Board of appeals member Terry Herndon shared some history behind the dilemma that faces the board whenever these cases are decided and stated that passage of Article 25 or Article 26 would help to clarify the situation. Voters decided to join the selectmen in providing no guidance on the issue and soundly defeated both articles.
Voters were now in the mood to confront the arrival of the North Middlesex Bank. Bank vice-president Tony O'Neil gave an eloquent presentation on the services his bank would provide and its present and future support of town activities. Corresponding support from the town voters was not forthcoming. Jim Davis of the historical commission successfully added an amendment to the article that would make the bank building and lot subject to commission approval, even though it is not in the historical district. It turned out to be unnecessary.
Phil Drew of Bedford Road summed up the feeling of the neighborhood near the old Saint Irene Church on Bedford Road that the bank purchased and where it hopes to locate. "A bank ATM is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week," said Drew. "This is totally inconsistent with a residential area. You are singling out District A with this amendment." Joe Donovan of Bedford Road read a long, passionate statement that voiced more of the same concerns. Although Spencer Brook Lane resident Charlie Ferraro presented some strong arguments in favor of a community bank in town, Simonds sensed the trend and called for a vote. Article 27 failed to receive a two-thirds majority and even lost the simple majority vote.
Christine Bopardikar, chair of the Greenough subcommittee, explained the intention of ConsCom to lease the house and barn on the Greenough conservation land. "This will be for in-kind services," she commented. The commission's aim is to maximize restoration of a town asset with no out-of-pocket expenses to the town. Under state law, such a change in the use of conservation land requires Town Meeting approval. The part about "no out-of-pocket expenses to the town" was music to the voters' ears and they unanimously approved Article 30.
The residents of Ice Pond Road returned from last year's defeat to again request acceptance as a public way. The question in everyone's mind was whether the issue of an easement into the state park had been resolved. It was this easement that caused Ice Pond Road to be held hostage the last time around, even though the roadway itself was recommended for approval by the planning board.
Selectman chair Vivian Chaput announced, "I believe we have resolved the issues regarding access to the state park. The owners will put a boardwalk through the wetlands. Our trails committee has graciously offered to work with the owners to ensure completion." That was all the townspeople needed to hear and Article 32 passed by a vote of 160-3.
Article 34 asks the town to adopt the provisions of the Quinn Bill which gives union and non-union employees in the police department additional pay based on education. The town pays the full benefit and the state is expected to reimburse the town for half. Although the police and selectmen had differed on this issue, selectman Michael Fitzgerald was pleased to announce that negotiations with the union had been successful and there was agreement that if the state does not reimburse the town, the police would return the money to the town. Fitzgerald extolled the benefits of a better-educated police force and the audience responded affirmatively by voice vote.
The Town Meeting concluded with a presentation by Paul Gill of Judy Farm Road requesting a six-month moratorium on granting of permits for wireless communications facilities. Gill cited the hazards of indiscriminate cell tower proliferation and the need to form an advisory committee. This committee would perform a comprehensive study of cell tower proposals and recommend possible bylaw changes. Townspeople passed Article 35 by a vote of 166-7 and then ran for the exits.
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito