Friday, October 22, 1999
Municipal land committee gives nod to Saint Irene purchase, nay to Conant Land petition
On October 18, the municipal land committee (MLC) voted affirmatively on acquiring the site of the old Saint Irene Catholic Church but failed to back the citizen petition to place the Conant Land under permanent conservation restriction. Faced with a deadline imposed by the selectmen to make a recommendation before the November 2 Town Meeting, the final decision indicated that the MLC viewed the restriction favorably but felt that the town should first resolve the question of afffordable housing on the land.
Saint Irene land
In the matter of town purchase of the Saint Irene property next to the post office, two questions raised by chair Burt Rubenstein were: "What is the purpose?" and "Are there compatible uses?" Prominently mentioned as logical uses were tennis courts, a swimming pool, a small park, limited affordable housing, a tie-in with elder housing on Church Street and parking for well-attended nighttime activities at the library, school and church.
Rubenstein reported that the recreation commission is not interested in pushing for a community center owing to the high cost of development. Housing authority chair Martin Galligan, in turn, was dubious about affordable housing there, because the land has not perked well in previous tests, and the costs of demolition and landscaping would be steep for a single unit. However, he was still reluctant to take it off the table, since there has been insufficient time to study the plot more carefully. John Lee, the slated replacement for Christine Bopardikar on the committee and known for his opposition to development on the Conant Land, spoke in support of the purchase as a possible alternate site for at least some affordable units. Member Charles Parker raised the possibility of combining a swimming pool with additional parking. There was some discussion, led by Bopardikar, of the fact that the parcels acquired recently by the town have come through Chapter 61A, which requires that 51 percent of the land be devoted to open space or agriculture, while this property is not only ideally located but is free of restrictions.
Boiling down the widely ranging discourse, Rubenstein sensed a developing consensus for grabbing the property for "general municipal use" before the price goes higher. "It's flat, it's in the town center and it's not restricted," he summarized. The ensuing vote to support the purchase was six to nothing with one abstention.
Conant Land petition
The Conant Land discussion was somewhat less extensive after Galligan made it clear that the housing authority will not be asking for a vote on the project at Town Meeting. He will merely report on progress to date. The plan to be described at Town Meeting will locate all construction in a 300-foot strip along Rockland Road, staying well away from the center of the parcel. There would be no basements, no blasting and no septic system mounds, he asserted. However, if fire chief Robert Koning requires that the road conform to all standards for town roads, blasting would be probable.
As the discussion turned to the Warrant article that will actually be voted on at Town Meeting, specifically, a citizen petition to place all of the land under conservation restriction, Galligan agreed that the land is indeed "unique" and that it would make sense to leave as much of it as possible undeveloped, once the housing issue has been decided.
Member Louise Hara stressed the "unique quality" of the land, while conceding the need to find some solution to the town's affordable housing vacuum. Lee, who is an abutter to the Conant Land, also spoke up in support of the petition, saying the committee should back it for the same reason they had voted to acquire the church property"just so we'll have it."
Committee members Jane Anderson, Rubenstein and Bopardikar expressed their inclination to let the town build the five proposed housing units and then put the rest of the property under restriction in the spring. Bopardikar, in particular, was anxious to save a major portion as wooded habitat.
The final decision was to refuse to back the petition as written, but to state that once the housing option has been decided one way or the other, a conservation restriction should be placed on the remaining portion. This version brought five affirmative votes and two abstentions.
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito