Friday, November 19, 1999
Developer's "deal" for Pine Meadows lots comes to light
At the November 8 planning board hearing, a complex deal emerged which involved a developer's plan to create a potentially valuable lot for the town in a proposed subdivision in exchange for the ability to build on two lots in an existing subdivision.
The planning board continued its public hearing on November 8 to amend the Pine Meadow definitive subdivision plan and release two lots for sale and building purposes. The original plan states that Lots 1 and 2 shall be set aside for purposes of providing light and air and/or recreation, and that no building shall be erected without prior approval of the planning board for a period of three years. A robust economy has prompted developer Bill Costello to seek early release of the two lots on the corner of Maple Street and Davis Road so that he can benefit from today's hot real estate market. Both lots are under agreement and buyers hope to install foundations before winter. An existing water well is a precondition to a building permit, but the well permit can only be issued if the planning board releases the lots.
This was the second time the board considered the developer's request and member Michael Epstein kicked off round two by asking, "Why should the board grant early release?" Costello, seated in the front row of the Clark Room, replied that he intends to complete Davis Road by next spring and would like all heavy equipment off the road by then. This would be possible if Lots 1 and 2 were built this fall and winter. A bigger question remained unaskedwhat incentive does the town have to grant early release? This is when the first hint of a "deal" began to emerge.
It all started last July when Costello sent a letter to the planning board and board of selectmen with the following proposal. The town of Carlisle owns a 2.43-acre parcel of land off of East Riding Drive acquired for nonpayment of taxes. This parcel has no means of access and is further isolated by a large wetland to its south and west. Costello purchased the nearby property and will develop a nine-lot subdivision known as Carriage Way. He has a purchase and sale agreement for an adjoining 1.75-acre Sayer parcel which, when combined with the town land, would create a four-acre pork chop lot that might be suitable for building. Costello proposes to extend Carriage Way by 155 feet to reach the combined lots and donate a 40-foot-wide strip of land to access the town's land-locked parcel.
Costello estimates that the new lot will have a gross retail value of $345,000. The net proceeds from its sale would accrue exclusively to the town's benefit, and after expenses and reimbursement of $40,000 to Costello for the Sayer parcel, could net the town $250,000. In return for this act of generosity, Costello asks for waiving of all subdivision application fees and a speedy and less expensive approval process. Most of the townspeople attending the November 8 public hearing were aware of these events, but saw little relevance to the release of two lots in Pine Meadows. They had attended the previous public hearing on October 25 and heard no mention of any "deal."
Epstein, using carefully chosen words, now revealed that Costello had one other request in return for his Carriage Way largessthe release of Lots 1 and 2 in the Pine Meadows subdivision. If this had been explained earlier, it probably would have been considered a reasonable request"quid pro quo." But since it was hidden from the townspeople during prior public discussions, the reaction was predictable. "This is the first time this has come out!" exclaimed Luisa Heard of Maple Street. "Why not at the last meeting?" Epstein's only excuse was that they wanted to check on the legality. "Little by little, we're getting the information," said an obviously perturbed Heard.
Epstein assured the audience that no decision has been made. "That's the purpose of the public hearingto see what's in the best interest of the town. We have been presented with an opportunityotherwise, there's a one-year delay and we may end up with nothing." Member Dan Holzman regretted any suspicions of the town residents. "That's why town government has to be totally transparent," he lamented. "What would be allowable in business is viewed in government as having some ulterior motive."
Costello, in his letter proposing the land offer, expressed one misgiving. "My concern, from past experience, is that in Carlisle it often seems that no good deed goes unpunished. In this matter, I would hope it could be pursued in the spirit in which it is offered."
Selectman Vivian Chaput suggested a compromise. "This [deal] might be a public benefit. Perhaps one lot could be released in Pine Meadows to give us the opportunity to work out something on Carriage Way." Chaput held out little hope that the town would buy the Pine Meadows lots since voters turned down the Saint Irene purchase at Town Meeting. She offered the possibility that a group of neighbors could come up with a means to purchase one or both lots from the developer. This prompted Bert Williams of Maple Street to inquire as to the asking price. "$315,000 each," was Costello's reply. That sank that idea.
Now that details of the "deal" had been revealed, some possible pitfalls emerged that could leave the town holding the bag. What if the Pine Meadows lots were released and then the Carriage Way lot proved unbuildable? What if the town voted against purchase of the Sayer lot, thus leaving the companion land-locked parcel worthless? Meanwhile, Costello would have sold the Pine Meadows lots and the open space would be gone forever. These questions must be answered, but winter is coming and Costello's offer has a strict time limit. "Your decision is no good three weeks from now. I would like resolution now!" he insisted.
"This is an example of how complex the issues are," commented Holzman. "This could net the town $250,000, but if we delay our decision, then we've decided by default." Board members were reluctant to endorse the "deal" without approval of the selectmen, who were scheduled to meet the following night. Costello agreed to a one-day delay and Epstein moved to release Lot 2, subject to an agreement between the applicant and the board of selectmen on the financial arrangements. The board voted to approve the motion, with member Michael Abend recused as an abutter.
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito