The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, February 4, 2000


Interest continues in changing open space senior housing regulations

Welcome back, Kate Reid! After a six-month leave of absence in Germany, Reid returned to the planning board accompanied by applause from around the head table. The sometimes short-handed board was once again restored to a full roster of seven, although Reid suffered from a bad case of jet lag at the January 24 meeting. She had just returned to Carlisle the day before and it was 4 a.m. in Deutschland by meeting's end.

Selectman Vivian Chaput returned to further pursue her interest in changing the Senior Residential Open Space Community (SROSC) bylaw. The planning board is the permit-granting authority for the SROSC and Chaput would like to see the board sponsor a Warrant article to change the bylaw.

Section 5.7 of the town bylaws presently requires that individual units in an SROSC be limited to 1,400 square feet and the minimum age of the owner/occupant be 62 years. When the original bylaw was passed, the 1,400-square-foot limit was chosen to allow higher density with less impact on the land and to provide more affordable units. The age limit of 62 was thought to be appropriate. A Warrant article withdrawn at the May 1999 Town Meeting proposed to increase the maximum size of a living unit to 2,400 square feet and lower the minimum age to 55.

Chaput sees no great issue with the age reduction. She said 55 seems to be the minimum age in surrounding towns and targets the "empty nester" market. "The size of the living unit creates more of a problem," said Chaput. The present bylaw requires a total tract area of at least ten acres and open space shall constitute at least 1.2 acres for every dwelling unit. Each building can have no more than four dwelling units, averaging no more than two bedrooms each (three maximum), and no building can be more than 4,800 square feet. This was deliberately chosen so that the dwelling units reflect, in size and architecture, the character of Carlisle's single-family residences. "They shouldn't look like apartments," asserted Chaput.

Originally, the number of dwelling units was limited to no more than 1.5 times the number of lots that the planning board would allow on the parcel, if it were to be developed as a subdivision. This preserves the basic two-acre zoning while allowing clustering, to preserve open space. "We wanted to keep it affordable and to fit the land," said Chaput, who was a member of the planning board when the original bylaw was adopted. Increasing the dwelling unit size to 2,400 square feet not only raises the cost, but it creates the apartment-sized building that the original SROSC bylaw tried so hard to avoid.

"Maybe we could keep the 4,800 square foot maximum, but have some units larger and some smaller2,400, 1,000, etc." suggested member Michael Abend. Others reasoned that single-family houses in Carlisle have grown so big in the last few years that larger SROSC buildings would blend right in. Member Dan Holzman had a more basic question about the usefulness of SROSC housing: "If it's so good, why haven't we seen more?" Chaput blamed it on the cost of land. "A developer can make more money by building standard houses. Even the 50 percent bonus doesn't make it more attractive."

Chaput had clearly aroused the interest of the planning board with this well-meaning, yet deceivingly complex, bylaw change. Members Michael Abend and Kate Reid agreed to work on it and report back to the board on the advisability of sponsoring the Warrant article.

2000 The Carlisle Mosquito