Friday, November 5, 1999
For the Relentless and the Brave
For those who feel alienated from politics on a national level, Town Meeting was the perfect antidote where, as selectman John Ballantine pointed out, "politics is personal." Pouring over a decade of Warrants the day before the meeting I walked away with less of the information I was looking for but more respect for the volunteers who spend hours writing bylaws, poring over numbers and relentlessly pursuing proposals. For this reason, I would like to acknowledge a few of the residents who spent a good deal of their time to offer voters an opportunity to shape the mold of our community.
It was appropriate that housing authority chair Marty Galligan was commended for his persistent efforts to kindly, patiently and persistently nudge forward affordable housing proposals over the last 13 yearsalways in the face of significant opposition.
Rightly so, the wireless communications advisory committee, led by Paul Gill and Don Allen, received a round of applause for their Herculean effort to compose a 15 page, complex bylaw to preserve the town's character in the face of mounting pressure from wireless communications companies who want to dot the landscape with cell towers. The group was racing to incorporate recommendations from AT&T, the planning board and town counsel down to the wire (no pun intended).
Perhaps less apparent to the crowd, but clear to those closer to the action, was the cooperative effort in fiscal affairs led by chair of selectman Doug Stevenson, who struggled to smooth the choppy waters left in the wake of last year's stormy Town Meeting. Hopefully, all town leaders took to heart the strong message from resident Beth Hambleton, who had the courage to stand up and highlight concerns about the handling of the town's financial matters.
It was unfortunate that the Friends of Conant, who worked doggedly in their effort to preserve the town center parcel, did not learn that their Warrant article was "fatally flawed" until it reached the floor of Town Meeting. However, they should be admired for the civil discourse maintained throughout the debate over use of the land and the heightened awareness residents now have for Carlisle's "jewel" in the town center and its fragile nature.
I cannot name all who worked so hard, composed remarks and bravely put their beliefs on the line in the face of their neighbors, but I thank you for your efforts in the name of the betterment of our town. Perhaps during this week of the Veterans Day holiday, no better tribute can be paid than to appreciate and continue at this grassroots level our democratic traditions.
Controlling Our Destiny
According to the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), "For over 25 years, through its Comprehensive Permit Law, Massachusetts has been a leader in removing unnecessary regulatory barriers to affordable housing." Let's look at the numbers. Based on 1990 statistics, of the 296 Massachusetts communities listed by the DHCD, Carlisle ranks 266th with 1.21 percent of its 1,491 housing units considered affordable. The ten towns ranked closest to Carlisle are Harvard, Shirley, Deerfield, Halifax, Buckland, Wellfleet, Ashburnham, Bolton, Rutland, and Plainville. Martha's Vineyard is a study in contrasts. West Tisbury ranks last with no affordable housing and Aquinnah (formerly known as Gay Head) ranks first with 37.78 percent.
Massachusetts as a whole has 8.54 percent affordable housing, yet only 24 communities have more than ten percent, Of those that conform, Boston is the largest with a percentage of 19.43, Aquinnah is the smallest; Wendell, with only 371 total housing units, is the only other town smaller than Carlisle which complies (19.4 percent). So that we don't feel so bad, if towns are ranked from best to worst according to their actual deficit of affordable housing units, Carlisle is 92nd out of 271. On this scale, Newton is the worst offender.
A more interesting comparison would be Lincoln, with a 1990 population of 5,369 (close to Carlisle's 4,774) and just over 10 percent of its 1,742 housing units classified as affordable. Lincoln worked hard over the last two decades to achieve this ratio of affordable housing, and thereby to be able to control the development of their community, The land areas of both towns are about 15 square miles. Over 17 percent of Lincoln's land is in conservation. Carlisle has 25 percent conservation land, but if we're not careful, we could end up with substantial future development occurring outside the control of our town government and local zoning bylaws.
Carlisle looks and feels the way it does today because our town and its citizens have historically taken a very active role in controlling the development process. If we ignore the state's affordable housing guidelines we could lose this control. Let's look at an almost-worst-case scenario. If going forward, every development was permitted under the state's Comprehensive Permit Law, we would end up with 874 more housing units to reach the ten percent goal. A quarter of these would be affordable housing units. This would mean that over one-third of all residences in Carlisle would have been built without town oversight.
We need to make progress towards more affordable housing units. We can either take a proactive approach and build these units the way we as a town collectively feel they should be built, or we can relinquish control to developers. For every affordable housing unit we allow a developer to build under the Comprehensive Permit Law we lose control of three other building units. The problem gets worse as more and more development happens in Carlisle. Substantial development has occurred since 1990, with no real increase in the affordable housing statistics quoted above. Perhaps we could get closer to the state's goal of ten percent just by working to have some existing units reclassified as affordable. Clearly though, some new units will have to be constructed. There are many ways to do this, and many ideas have been proposed over the years. Now is the time to debate the possibilities, come to a consensus and start taking action.
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito