The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, September 3, 1999


Controversy finds a home on Conant Land

The Carlisle Housing Authority has met two consecutive Tuesdays to expedite forming a ballot question regarding affordable housing on the Conant Land in time for the Special Town Meeting on November 2. On August 24, the group hired Carlisle resident Caren Ponty as development consultant to review the financials, and on August 3 they considered preliminary site feedback from Grazado & Velleco Architects.

About ten abutters to the Conant Land appeared at each meeting to voice their ongoing concerns about the proposed site. Major issues include:

· Environmental impact to overall site.

· Overuse of site for municipal purposes (police station, fire station, Town Hall)

· Impact to water table.

· Conservation of woodland trails for community.

"I feel almost as strongly about the Conant Land as you do," said member Hal Sauer. "I feel troubled that something may be built there." Nonetheless, Sauer, also a member of the Carlisle Zoning Board of Appeals and cognizant of town process and procedure, pointed out that the danger of a developer obtaining a comprehensive permit to construct affordable housing and ignoring all local zoning requirements is very real. Carlisle offers only slightly more than one percent of affordable housing today, as compared to the ten percent recommended by the state.

Sauer said he knows of no other property in town as suitable to support affordable housing as the Conant Land in the immediate timeframe. "But this is by no means a done deal," said Sauer. He referenced a prior proceeding in 1994 to build affordable housing on the Russell Street Kulmala property, which Town Meeting rejected.

Hiring a consultant

The housing authority has already spent a great deal of time and effort collecting information on federal and state grants to subsidize the cost of building the dwellings. Chair Marty Galligan consolidated the data into a spreadsheet, but he quickly recognized the wisdom and cost-effectiveness of asking a development consultant to review the numbers and to recommend additional sources of funding.

The group identified six potential consultants. Sauer interviewed the candidates and shared his findings. The consultants varied widely in levels of expertise and pricing. After careful discussion, the housing authority selected Ponty, the principal of CP Consulting. The group cited her experience (16 years in the non-profit and moderate housing industry), reasonable cost, understanding of community issues, and previously demonstrated expertise. Ponty had provided consulting services to the town on the aforementioned Russell Street proceeding. Member Dorothea Kress praised Ponty's understanding of pertinent state and federal agencies, and noted her willingness to educate and help the housing authority sort through bureaucratic complexities.

Ponty articulated the difference between the 1994 and the 1999 scenarios: "With Russell Street, there was a single house on a very defined property, and the town was trying to decide the best use for it. The town decided it was not a good site for affordable housing. With the 57 acres of the Conant Land, the town is trying to determine what the best site is and if that site is financially feasible for affordable housing."

Searching for the perfect location

The scope of the work by Grazado and Velleco Architects will be conducted three phases:

1. A feasibility study that contains previously gathered engineering and test data, as well as new information about possible building sites.

2. A schematic design that tests assumptions, specifies locations of various elements, shows proposed buildings, and provides rough costs.

3. A presentation at Town Meeting that reviews the findings and schematics.

If Carlisle elects to proceed with the project, the next architectural phases will involve design and development, and then finalizing contracts.

Architect Jim Velleco identified four potential sites on the Conant Land based on survey data gathered by engineers Stamski and McNary in 1988. Velleco concluded that two of the sites have too much ledge to support septic systems, but will verify this information in the next week. He discussed the two remaining sites: one on Rockland Road, and another behind it, about 1,000 feet from the street. The existing trail entry to the Conant Land would remain intact.

Based on data currently available, Velleco believes both proposed sites will comply with all local zoning requirements, septic and well restrictions, and wetland buffers. The architect said, "These sites would not even require mounded septic systems."

The first site could accommodate five units (three 2-bedroom and two 3-bedroom). The second site could support eight units (four 2-bedroom and four 3-bedroom). If both sites were used, the necessary road would eradicate two units from the first site for a maximum of 11 units. Velleco has clearly endeavored to adhere to all Carlisle guidelines, and minimize the footprint of proposed buildings.

"The 1,000-foot road is pushing the outer limits of what your town allows," admitted Velleco. "It would probably cost $150,000 to build. You would also have to spend between $40,000 and $50,000 to hold water for a fire hydrant. This is deeper into a site than most towns would allow."

Concerns and objections

The thought of a 1,000 foot-road into the heart of the Conant Land enraged many neighborhood attendees, and they quickly voiced objections.

Town selectmen John Ballantine and Vivian Chaput, also in the audience, raised concerns about town costs in building only five units of affordable housing. As the number of units decrease, subsidies also decline, and the cost to the town increases. Galligan aims to eliminate or minimize the need for additional town funding through increased taxes. Ponty commented that a grant exists to cover site infrastructure costs such as the building of a road for affordable housing, so the project might not incur additional costs after all.

Velleco reiterated that his firm was only hired to specify what was possible to build on the land and estimate physical costs. He noted the scope does not include "emotional costs." In fact, he had begun his presentation by commenting he had received a call and a letter from two neighbors of the Conant Land. He asked that residents more appropriately direct such communications to the housing authority.

When an issue not on the agenda, unit rental versus ownership, threatened to upset the meeting again, Galligan delicately terminated discussion. "I've learned that there are a lot of strong but diametrically opposed opinions in this town," said Galligan.

1999 The Carlisle Mosquito