Friday, October 29, 1999
Article 6: Conservation restriction
Article 6 reads: "To see if the town will authorize and require the selectmen to transfer control of the Conant Land to the Carlisle Conservation Commission to be used solely for conservation purposes and passive recreation, exclusive of the potential development of a municipal water supply and/or the contiguous expansion of the town offices and/or fire station."
This article was placed on the Warrant by a petition signed by 179 people. According to Lowell Street resident John Lee, the drafting of this article was a joint effort of a group called Friends of Conant. This group, said Lee, is made up of town residents, not just from the town center or Rockland Road, who want to see the Conant Land preserved and who do not feel that housing is necessarily the best use for the land. "The purpose of the petition was to focus the discussion on the Conant Land as a community resource and not just as a dumping ground for every municipal purpose anybody can think of," said Lee.
As written, the petition would prohibit development on the entire Conant Land, including the portion off Rockland Road now being studied by the housing authority as a site for five to seven units of affordable housing. Contiguous expansion of the fire station and Town Hall and development of a public water supply would be allowed.
According to selectman John Ballantine, town counsel has advised that the ability to amend this article on the floor of Town Meeting is severely limited, although amendments within the scope of the original petition may be allowed at the discretion of the moderator. Ballantine stated that town counsel further advised that amending the article to allow affordable housing to be built on the land should not be allowed because it is outside the scope of the original article.
A simple majority vote is required for approval. Selectman Michael Fitzgerald emphasized, however, that a no vote on Article 6 does not automatically mean that there will be affordable housing built on the Conant Land. Any new use of the Conant Land, including affordable housing, will require a separate vote at Town Meeting.
The board of selectmen, municipal land committee, finance committee and planning board all voted not to recommend this article. At the FinCom meeting on October 18, there was general agreement with member Tom Bilotta's concern that limiting the the use of the Conant Land could force the town to buy land for future public facilities that otherwise could be located on the property. Charles Parker argued that such a restriction would cost the town money soon, to purchase land for an inevitable affordable housing initiative. According to administrator Katrina Proctor, the conservation commission would like to see the affordable housing option resolved before conservation restrictions are put on the Conant Land.
The Conant Land, consisting of approximately 54 acres, was purchased by the town in 1974. The original Warrant article described the purposes for which the town acquired the property as police station, fire station, town offices, public works and municipal water supply. At a selectmen's meeting on September 14, advisor to the housing authority Ed Sonn pointed out that neither the original Warrant article nor the deed prohibited using the land for housing.
Many letters to the editor from abutters have emphasized concerns about the fragile water supply in the area. Tony Mariano, Sr., a local geologist who has studied the Conant Land, has stated that the parcel is made up primarily of dense rock which in general has low water yield except in those areas where a large fracture can be intercepted. That explains why some wells around the periphery of the Conant Land have low yields and some have high yields. Mariano further stated that removal of large quantities of a dense rock load could cause movements in the fracture system which, in turn, could change the existing fluid flow pattern.
According to housing authority member Hal Sauer, however, concerns about interfering with the water supply in the town center come into play only if new construction requires blasting. Several test pits dug by the housing authority's architects have made it fairly certain that blasting will not be needed, said Sauer.
Similarly, Sauer discounts issues of increased traffic. The new units, which will accommodate parking for an additional ten to 14 cars, will generate "a pittance" of new traffic compared to the amount of growth-related traffic on major roads, such as Westford Street where Sauer lives.
Letters to the editor have also encouraged the town to look at alternative means to develop affordable housing, such as land banking. Lee specifically referred to a bill in the state legislature which would allow localities to impose a real estate transfer fee to fund municipal purposes such as affordable housing. The bill was passed by the senate but, as Lee conceded, will be of no immediate help in Carlisle. "Where that will come out is anybody's guess," said Lee. In terms of other options, Lee hoped that the town would begin to look at affordable housing in the same way it looks at conservation issues and keep housing in mind when a parcel comes on the market.
The ability to buy other land for affordable housing concerns both the board of selectmen and finance committee. The selectmen's liaison to the municipal land committee, Burt Rubenstein, has indicated that the town does not own enough land for all of the town's anticipated needs over the next 15 to 20 years. In this regard, selectman Michael Fitzgerald commented, "The article as written handcuffs the town on the potential uses of the Conant Land and is not in the best long-term interest of the town."
As many letters to the editor attest, the land inspires strong emotions. Bonnie Miskolczy of Cross Street stated, "[The Conant Land] provides a buffer and resource for our densely developed town center, a most remarkable wild space and unspoiled habitat for everyone to reconnect with the land." Although Sauer supports some form of affordable housing on the site, he made it clear that, personally, after this housing project, he would not want to see further development on the land. "The Conant Land is priceless. It's a jewel," he said, "but in this world, we have to make trade-offs."
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito