The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, October 22, 1999


Reasons to Support Affordable Housing on the Conant Land

At Town Meeting on May 2, an overwhelming majority voted to spend $30,000 to study the feasibility of building affordable housing on Conant Land. Early results of that study show that the project is feasible from an engineering aspect and is practical legally and financially.

Carlisle is changing with the times, and many forces shaping it are beyond our control. One thing within our control is the choice between town-developed affordable housing or town-owned restricted conservation land, with the associated cost of future commercially-developed densely packed neighborhoods. With the support of the town, the housing authority is moving to develop affordable housing and protect valuable natural resources.

There are two compelling reasons for building affordable housing. The first is to promote diversity. A range of housing options invites heterogeneity that adds to the richness of the town. The second reason reflects the state's comprehensive permit law: If less than ten percent of a town's housing stock is affordable, the state will allow landowners and developers to override local zoning regulations when 25 percent of the houses in a new development are sold as affordable. In the fall of 1998, this provision prompted a developer to propose a densely-packed housing development on East Riding Drive. Developer-initiated comprehensive permit projects have recently been built on Carlisle Road in Bedford and Virginia Road in Concord.

One often hears the comment that building five to seven housing units is a token that won't deter a developer intent on breaking Carlisle's zoning. However, based on feedback from the state and the experience of other towns, it appears that officials administering the state subsidy programs would be unlikely to approve a developer's densely-packed plans for a development in Carlisle during the same years that the town is building affordable units. If affordable housing is built during the year 2000, and sold or rented during 2001, it seems unlikely that Carlisle will see hostile comprehensive permits during 2000 or 2001, or for a few years afterward.

Engineering study

The viability of placing up to 12 units of affordable housing on the Conant Land was examined by Grazado Velleco Architects of Marblehead. They focused on four different two- to three-acre areas on the land. Two areas, one adjacent to Rockland Road and one roughly centered on the land, were deemed flat enough and far enough from wetlands and ledge to be developed. In order to preserve as much of the center of Conant as possible, the housing authority has focused on the area adjacent to Rockland Road.

On September 22, percolation tests were conducted and test pits were dug in the likely areas for septic systems and foundations. The findings showed favorable percolation rates and little ledge close to the surface, making blasting or mounded septic systems unlikely.

Grazado Velleco Architects recommend building two or three two-story buildings containing a total of five to seven housing units. The largest building would have a 35-foot by 55-foot foundation, with the shorter dimension facing the street. This building would contain a three-bedroom unit and two two-bedroom units. The housing units would not have full basements, avoiding blasting. The buildings would be placed 60 feet or more from the center line of Rockland Road, in accordance with Carlisle's setback requirements. A rectangular strip along Rockland Road containing all the buildings would be under one acre. Adding space for yards and a common well increases the site to approximately three acres. There would be two parking spaces per unit, totaling 10 to 14 parking spaces. Wherever possible, parking areas will be shielded from the street with plantings. Parking will be grouped with no more than two spaces in a row, followed by an intervening green area.

The fire chief has requested that Rockland Road be widened from Westford Street to the driveway of the housing, which may require removal of a small rock outcropping.

Conservation and aesthetics

Based on results of the engineering study, the housing authority is confident that the center of the Conant Land will be protected and that development will be over 150 feet from Castle Rock. During most of the year, the houses will be invisible from Castle Rock. Considerable effort is being expended by the housing authority and architects to make the development as aesthetically pleasing as possible, including minimizing visual impact from the street, hiding parking areas wherever possible, and conforming to Carlisle zoning requirements, when feasible.


Total development costs are projected at $1,175,000 for a seven-unit development of five two-bedroom units and two three-bedroom units. This is based on construction costs of $100 per square foot, including most site costs. Income is expected to exceed development costs by approximately $79,000, which could cover cost overruns or future affordable housing land purchases.


$899,000 Construction, including site costs and 10 percent contingency

$276,000 Soft costs: construction loan interest, architectural fees, legal fees, and clerk of the works

$1,175,000 Total expenses


$1,009,000 Anticipated sales revenues, based on sale prices of $139,000-$157,000

$70,000 Grant from Federal Home Loan Bank

$175,000 Grant for site work

$1,254,000 Total income

The example shown is based on selling the units. Equal consideration is also being given to the option of rental housing rather than ownership. No decision has been made and in weighing each option, input is being sought from Concord, Lexington, Lincoln, and other towns with many years' experience with affordable housing.

Next step

Based on the favorable results outlined above, the housing authority is advancing on Carlisle's first affordable housing initiative. Town counsel has indicated that in order to allocate a small section of Conant Land for housing, the town will have to vote to adopt the provisions of Mass. General Laws, Chapter 40, Section 15A (which provides for the transfer of land for affordable housing), and then vote to transfer the land. Both votes require a simple majority to pass. This will take place at the Spring 2000 Town Meeting.

Marty Galligan is the chair of the Carlisle Housing Authority.

Conant Land Should Be Preserved

As someone who has spent quite a few days and nights on the Appalachianand Long Trails., I would have to contend that the Conant Land. particularly the southerly and westerly portions, is fully as beautiful and exciting as either of those two much-heralded 'wilderness' resources. If you have not yet walked the Conant Trail, you will be pleasantly surprised by the stunning physical beauty and the variability of the sometimes steep geophysical terrain.

What makes the Conant Land a standout property of significant conservation interest is the enormous variety of its geophysical features and accompanying biological diversity. The property is now easily accessed from the rear of the town offices parking area from where the curious walker will enter second growth pine forests along a lovely trail leading to Fishtail Pond. For many years, this has been a well-known and -used skating pond that is set in a protected depression and surrounded by huge residual outcroppings of upturned black rock,which leave the viewer with a sense of marvel and curiosity. Descending into a small lowland, one passes "Turtle Rock," reportedly one of several ancient Native American sites, before rising up onto the Castle Rock pediment and the Castle Rock itself. Over the past several summers, turkey vultures have successfully nested in its deep clefts.

Had you borne right at the fork and decided not to clamber over Castle Rock, you would have passed the smaller of several vernal pools on the Conant Land. The next fork connects you with the Old Morse Road trail system on the right (and ultimately the Cranberry Bog) and the "red gate" exit onto Rockland Road to the left. Turning left on Rockland, you may re-enter the Conant Land at the foot of Castle Rock and meander back to the town offices or extend your walk toward the Towle Field trail system. In the process you may have seen deer, great horned owls, fisher cats, sparrow hawks, red-tailed hawks, turkey vultures, turtles, salamanders and/or newts, not to mention a host of other wildlife.

But what you will have marveled at most is the stunning variability of the terrain. The terrain is rough and steep, the soils shallow to non-existent and the intervening buildable sites are small and inaccessible; it is nowhere flat, except where the extensive wetlands persist for most of the year. Over the years, town boards and agencies have studied these areas and thrown up their hands in dismay at the added cost of access, unsuitability for septage disposal and the disruption that their proposed project would wreak upon the surrounding beauty. Were this parcel still in private hands, it would most assuredly be placed at or near the top of the priority list on the Open Space and Recreation (OS&R) list of prime real estate.

Water issues

For these reasons alone the town should not have a "this is cheap land because we already own it" attitude. While this may be true in fact, the purposes for which the parcel was purchased from Cora Conant (town offices, water, fire, and department of public works sites, according to the original Warrant article) have already been realized, as has been pointed out any number of times in previous letters to the Mosquito. Certainly all of these purposes "belong" in a historic New England village center setting. However, there is a significant additional issue which must be understood and appreciated. The "center" of Carlisle is also home to at least two state-recognized 21E contamination sites and most of the deep and shallow wells of center residents are already marginally (and in four cases, severely) contaminated. There is discussion as to whether or not the fire department well is also contaminated. Needless to say, this does not augur well for housing on the Conant Land. The subsurface hydrology of the Conant Land and the center is poorly understood. Any disturbance, such as blasting, will be extremely risky if not dangerous to the health and welfare of the center residents who have already borne the brunt of Carlisle's municipal building programs.

So, what are the alternatives if the Conant Land is so valuable to our schools, quality of life, municipal identification, resource conservation ethic and pollution abatement questions? How do we refrain from habitually (in true lemming fashion) coming back to the Conant Land as the site of choice when we have an arguably municipal dilemma? Are there no other options?

Land-banking option

The answer to the above is yes and no. We all agree there is nothing in hand that seems to fit our apparent immediate non-conservation open space needs. There is general agreement that the town needs to produce some sort of "affordable" housing solution. The land-banking option seems to be a valid approach. In 1995 and 1996, approximately one hundred million dollars worth of real estate changed hands in this town. Had there been a one percent transfer fee, one million dollars could have been set aside to either be used outright or as seed money to buy appropriate parcels for moderate income housing. The town should negotiate with every developer who wants to work in Carlisle to set aside ten percent (for example) of the proposed units for affordable housing in return for some other incentive. There are other potential solutions as well. Not the least of these is creative, unified long-term planning.The municipal land committee is beginning to pursue this process. We look forward to their recommendations.

The future of the Conant Land is truly a town-wide issue about how we perceive value, how we protect the resources that we bought so long ago that they seem "free"

and how we see Carlisle developing in the foreseeable future. The Conant Land is the definition of rurality as we define it in Carlisle; it is the spirit of the center of our town that is too easily dismissed in our rush toward poorly planned development pressures.

John Lee is the spokesperson for a group of residents, Friends of Conant.

Lifelong Learning

The instructor was an energetic young fellow with a wealth of practical knowledge and an enthusiastic approach to sharing it. The students were a good deal older, and seemed excited to be back in a classroom again. The three-hour evening course was "Net Surfing," a pastime that hadn't been invented when I acquired my "formal" education. The classroom was a CCHS computer lab, and the program was offered by Concord-Carlisle Adult and Community Education (CCA&CE).

Right off the bat, I knew this would be a low-stress learning experience. In bold print on the first page of the instructor's handout was the statement, "Students are authorized to cheat." And sure enough, during an Internet Scavenger Hunt intended to hone our new web-surfing skills, we all did cheathelping each other figure out the quickest way to find Bill Clinton's phone number, a blank 1997 IRS form or an engineering job opportunity in Boston's western suburbs. Why couldn't formal schooling be this easy? No exams, no 15-page papers, no required courses or long-term commitmentsjust low-key, low-cost community-based education motivated by the pure desire to learn and made possible by our neighbors' willingness to teach.

John Silber, in his Carlisle Education Forum address earlier this year, suggested that knowledge of subject be the key determinant for teacher qualification. CCA&CE, unencumbered by state teacher certification requirements, can take full advantage of this proposition. An examination of the course offerings and instructor credentials in any CCA&CE catalog is really quite impressive. From music, art, literature and foreign languages to health and fitness, investing and parenting, an incredible array of learning opportunities is available at reasonable cost right here in our local community. On the other side of the equation, regional school district resources (labs and classrooms) are leveraged by evening use, and local residents with the knowledge and desire to teach can find personal gratification and modest monetary compensation.

According to CCA&CE director Court Booth, over 1,600 students have registered for fall semester courses. Of this total, 60 percent are from Concord and Carlisle, and 40 percent from other neighboring communities. Carlisle registrations, however, are a good deal lower than population statistics would predict. Our kids represent 25 percent of the regional high school population, but our adults make up only 18 percent of the Concord-Carlisle contingent taking CCA&CE classes. (Actually, the program serves more than adults, with choral singing and morning foreign language instruction among the offerings for children.)

As new technologies invade our personal lives, as our various roles, responsibilities and relationships become more complex, and as lifespans increase, the need and the time available for lifelong learning make adult and community education programs a necessary and valuable resource. With such programs offered in Concord-Carlisle and many other nearby towns, it should be possible to find the right course on the right dates and the right times to satisfy almost any learning desire. There's even a website ( which will help locate specific local adult ed courses offered on specific dates and times.

There's a tendency to think of our lives in stages: a learning stage, a working stage and a retirement (or relaxation) stage. A better vision is to maximize our knowledge, productivity, health and contentment by becoming active lifelong learners.


1999 The Carlisle Mosquito