Friday, April 7, 2000
Cat on the Hot Conant Land
In response to a garbled phone message, I wandered into Town Hall not knowing what meeting to attend or why. Finance committee or housing authority? I took my chances on housing. What unfolded could have been written by Tennessee Williams or Eugene O'Neilldrama, passion, mystery. Having seen the meeting peopled with great and caring characters, I was inspired to share what transpired with those unable to attend.
The leading issue at the March 29 Carlisle Housing Authority meeting was how to effectively deal with all parties swirling around the proposed construction of affordable housing units on the Conant Land.
The focal point that night was the "garbage grinder" issue. Carlisle regulations, administered by the board of health, require that septic systems exceed the state's Title 5 requirements by 50 percent to accommodate garbage grinders. Marty Galligan, chair of the Carlisle Housing Authority, stated firmly that there are no plans to install garbage grinders and, given the rental nature of the housing units, felt that a "no garbage grinder rule" could be enforced. However, the consensus around the table was that the local board of health probably would not bend the rulefor the housing authority or anyone. Such a precedent could haunt the board of health later and they are trying to do what is best for the town.
Consequently, the housing authority has drawn up two site plans: one which complies with Title 5 regulations, weighing in at 3.92 acres, and another following the Carlisle regulations, tipping the scales at a heftier 6 acres. Furthermore, the larger septic system design requirements push the two western-most housing units 40 feet closer to Castle Rock.
Housing authority member Shelley Orenstein placed a hot potato on the table when she pointed out that using a comprehensive permit to develop the seven rental units would exempt the project from local rules. Authority members shifted in their seats. Galligan summed up the sentiment: the commission would prefer to go to Town Meeting with the board of health's support. Using a state comprehensive permit, they could reduce the acreage and move the units a bit further away from Castle Rock, but circumventing local control could be perceived as a hostile act. "This is a small town," said Galligan, "we have to work together; we see each other at Scouts and at church and at meetings"
In addition to authority members, the Heald Room hosted a scattering of interested citizens and neighbors. Judging from the comments, one gets the impression that there is definitely a contingent in town that sees the only good housing plan for Conant as a nonexistent housing plan. For them, the whole plan is ecologically and esthetically the pitts.
Annette Lee, representing citizens interested in placing a conservation restriction on the remaining Conant Land, was not pleased. She said their group's proposed Warrant article had just been turned down by the selectmen because they could not identify the specific acreage to be placed under restriction. The citizens' group could not identify the acreage, largely because the housing authority was still trying to work with the board of health to reduce the acreage for the housing. Hmmmm. Sounds like both groups have similar goals. And so it goes, round and round. Good neighbors trying to do the right thing in a small town.
Finishing up the night's business, town building committee member Ed Sonn said that he would work closely with the back-hoe operator to ensure that, while digging the test holes for the six-acre plan, the operator does not cut through or near the vernal pools. (During amphibian migration season, the not-too-bright toads, frogs and salamanders are just as likely to lay eggs in a tire track as a vernal pool. The former won't hold water long enough for the eggs to hatch.)
Orenstein addressed grants and funding sources, which remain uncertain. Member Dorothea Kress presented the revised "Guidelines for Local Review of Comprehensive Permits," commending their readability. This will be a "must read" for those interested in local participation if the Conant project goes the comprehensive permit route.
Also mentioned was the upcoming forum on housing sponsored by the Carlisle Housing Authority on April 12 at 7:30 p.m. in the Town Hall. Will it be a roast? Housing authority members joked about borrowing bullet-proof vests.
Which version of the plan will be presented at Town Meeting, the 6-acre or 3.92-acre plan? Telling that would be like giving away the ending of a good mystery. Come to Town Meeting on May 2 and find out. It will be great theater.
Jan Conover is a Westford Street resident and member of the Mosquito production staff.
© 2000 The Carlisle Mosquito