Friday, May 28, 1999
Consider a Spring Summit
Former town administrator Paul Cohen set many heads nodding in agreement when he addressed the annual meeting of Carlisle Communications, Inc. on May 13. He offered some astute, common sense suggestions on how to fine-tune Carlisle's government. One idea that seemed especially worthwhile was that of a "spring summit"a post-Town Meeting gathering of board chairmen "to discuss community-wide objectives and to improve communication." (See May 21 Mosquito, page 1). The need for such a communication summit will be evident to anyone who endured this month's Town Meetings, which at times were marvels of disorganization.
Cohen also suggested that such a meeting would be a good opportunity for community leaders to discuss and decide upon goalsnot of the long-range or Master Plan variety, but rather of a manageable 12-month type. These goals, as Cohen pointed out, tend to be more specific and easily reviewable throughout the year; in other words, attainable.
Several years ago, after a contentious override vote, town department heads began to meet regularly to exchange ideas, discuss needs and find common ground. This open flow of communication helped heal many a sore feeling and avert problems caused by ego and misunderstanding. Today's selectmen should heed Cohen's urging and give a town-wide committee summit the green light.
Breaking New Ground
Carlisle came out ahead at town meeting this year. The routine housekeeping articles, such as the budget and the CCHS regional agreement, passed with minimal discussion. Articles related to maintenance and equipment, such as the DPW cleanup and pumper truck for the fire department, passed easily, too. In most years, town meeting seems to go calmly until we are asked to change something or do something new—then the passion of arguments escalates with the amount of money involved. But this year, we moved in a new direction.
This town meeting broke new ground with a discussion of affordable housing in words that were more thoughtful than passionate, and that weighed our community's long-term needs more heavily than the considerable cost in open space and in dollars. Nostalgic talk about the rural environment we all aspire to preserve was put aside long enough to address some factors that threaten it. Voters woke up to the fact that affordable housing is a necessity we must undertake for the town if we are to prevent developers from doing it for us. The major discussion issues were about who controls development within the town and the preservations of open space, particularly a space as much loved and utilized as the Conant land. Carlisle came out ahead when town meeting asserted control over the shape of development. Though the vote was forced by the presence of a developer eager to undertake affordable housing unencumbered by local zoning regulations (see Mosquito editorial, May 21), the painful issues were faced and a decision was made.
Town meeting and election voters also supported the preservation of open space in the decision to purchase the Wang-Coombs land. Again, the town was forced into a choice; a developer was ready to build and Carlisle had either to exercise its option to buy the property, or, by failure to do so, allow it to be developed. For many years, the perils threatening open space have been treated like an elephant in the living room; we broke new ground by looking at the real issues and acknowledging that it is more economical in the long run to pay and preserve it than allow it to be developed.
More new ground was broken by Article 20, when citizens considered the social and community needs of mothers and toddlers to be important reasons for supporting construction of a toddler playground at Diment Park. The need for a safe place for toddlers to play with other children, the need of nonworking parents in Carlisle's isolated society for companionship and sharing, and the idea that such a playground would contribute to a stronger sense of community, were new additions to warrant article discussions. The big new direction here was that the town considered social and community needs more important than the cost, and recognized with generous appreciation the contribution of the women who started the playground project and who worked to bring this need before town meeting.
We didn't do it all, but we certainly broke new ground. The Carlisle Housing Authority presented its case clearly enough to convince the meeting that we must develop affordable housing. The Wang-Coombs preservation was facilitated by the long, hard work of the Municipal Land Committee and the Open Space and Recreation report and the generosity of private citizens who put up front money to keep the purchase open, as well as from the recently published "Growing Pains" report on the financial impact of development. And the mothers who worked to develop a community playground stimulated a discussion in which the community needs of a substantial part of Carlisle's population was acknowledged. These were big new steps indeed.
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito