The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, August 13, 1999


Housing authority hires architect for Conant Land affordable housing

With an affordable housing rate of only 1.2 percent compared to the state recommendation of ten percent, the time seems ripe for the Carlisle Housing Authority's proposed development on the Conant Land. Most towns have a compliance rate of four to six percent, with Lincoln leading the surrounding communities at about seven percent. Considering that the affordable housing in Carlisle is income-attached elderly housing, with nothing provided for families at all, the issue ripens to an even deeper shade of red.

With developers eying Carlisle as "ripe for the picking," the question, according to housing authority member Dorothea Kress, was not, "Would the town say yes or no [to affordable housing] but who should engineer itthe developers or the town?" The town, it seemed, stepped up to the plate with its approval of $30,000 at the last Town Meeting. Using some of those funds, the housing authority unanimously approved hiring the architectural firm of Grazado & Valleco of Marblehead. With extensive experience in similar housing developments in Concord and glowing references, the architects will lead the Conant Land project into the first phase. This will determine the feasability of using the land to support 10-12 units of affordable housing, which pieces of the land could accept the development, planning and design. Problems with the land, such as the presence of a large amount of rock, may make the site somewhat more expensive to build on, said Kress. "But," she added, "we are not out to ruin the land. It should be enjoyed by everyone....It's a beautiful piece of land."

In a telephone interview, Kress recounted how, after three attempts at submitting articles for feasibility studies, planning and design research for affordable housing on the Conant Land, the town "suddenly woke up to the fact that developers were interested." After "a deluge of opposition" to previous attempts, Kress stated that finally, "People understood how developers could use state programs to override local zoning laws." Overrides, such as those made possible by the Local Initiative Program, allow developers to bypass town zoning laws provided they set aside a certain percentage of a development for affordable housing. Such programs, designed to bring affordable housing into so-called snob areas, "wreak havoc with local zoning," said Kress. She explained that large-acreage zoning mandates in towns such as Carlisle have more to do with keeping wells and septic systems intact than with achieving aristocratic real estate goals.

Lacking funding at this time to move beyond phase one of the project, Kress hopes to present the town with Grazado & Valleco's findings at the fall Town Meeting. Because of Carlisle land prices, she holds on to the hope that the town will see the benefits of building there despite whatever logistical obstacles present themselves. "If we're ever going to build affordable housing," maintains Kress, "since we can't afford Carlisle land prices, it has to be either town land or free....Out of 1,145 units as of 1990, Carlisle has only 18 units of affordable housingnone if you consider they're elderly housing. Then, we're at the mercy of the developers. What we would like to do is a good, important piece of housing, one that the community can be pleased with."

1999 The Carlisle Mosquito