Friday, April 14, 2000
Conant Land walkers express concerns about affordable housing
Last Sunday's hike on the Conant Land gave members of the Carlisle Conservation Commission, the trails committee and several Rockland Road neighbors a chance to voice their concerns about the proposed affordable housing development to be sited there. The walk was organized by a group of Carlisle citizens concerned with the following questions: Is the impact on the Conant Land too great? What about the impact on neighbors and the town center? And finally, is this the right way to bring affordable housing to Carlisle? Absent from the walk were members of the Carlisle Housing Authority.
In spite of a brisk wind and the threat of rain, about 35 Carlisle residents gathered at the Town Hall parking lot. The walk was intended to provide information for the upcoming vote at Town Meeting on whether to transfer six of the 57 acres of Conant Land to the Carlisle Housing Authority for development of a seven-unit affordable housing complex.
As the group set off, rather than discussing the upcoming vote, everyone seemed more interested in enjoying the walk while discussing kids, vacations and the weather. All ages were represented, from babes in backpacks to senior citizens, and five or six dogs led the way. The area was familiar to many participants, some of whom walk there frequently. Younger hikers accurately identified Fishtail Pond, the site of first-grade pond trips.
Walkers headed toward Castle Rock, a large ledge outcropping named by some of the first settlers to Carlisle and a landmark for hikers on the Conant Land trail. Approaching the rock, the group could see several areas in the woods to the left outlined in yellow tape. As the youngsters ran ahead to explore the rock-climbing potential, adults gathered to hear George Fardy, a Rockland Road resident, explain that the taped-off areas indicated where the three affordable housing structures would stand and that trees circled with orange tape were to be clear-cut to make room for the leaching field. Fardy and some neighbors had taped off the areas based on information from the housing authority.
As the group reached the pinnacle of Castle Rock, it was clear that the closest planned structure would be in full view with little screening. Many questions were raised about the scope and size of the project.
Disappointment was expressed that only five of the seven units would be affordable, with two available at market rate. "We're kidding ourselves if we think this project solves the problem of affordable housing in Carlisle," said one participant, pointing out that the state requires ten percent of housing in a town to be affordable in order to prevent a developer from overriding zoning regulations. In Carlisle, this would be at least 100 units.
Regardless of whether or not the town can meet the ten-percent level, everyone agreed that more should be done to encourage affordable housing, especially for town residents and employees who might otherwise be forced to live elsewhere.
After examining the taped-off area, Geoff Freeman, a Rockland Road resident and architect, expressed his concerns. "Everyone agrees we need affordable housing in Carlisle, but we need to take a whole-town approach." In his opinion, the impact could be minimized by spreading the units on land throughout town rather than placing them all on one site. He also wants to see the town implement other methods of obtaining affordable housing, including providing tax incentives and requiring developers to provide such housing as part of any new development.
At this, abutter and ConsCom member John Lee chimed in, "We need to plan affordable housing as part of the development of the town." He cited Wellesley and Concord as towns where developers are required to provide affordable housing. Other towns have implemented tax breaks to prevent tear-downs. "Some aging neighborhoods in Carlisle are starting to turn over, and some of those houses will be torn down [to build new, bigger houses]. We need to encourage owners to keep those affordable houses," he said.
"The Conant Land is a prime piece of conservation land," continued Lee. "It's the most centrally-located town holding." He pointed out that the land is used by the school for conservation education and, one year, it was the site of an outdoor art gallery. Lee also suggested that once this site is developed, there will be no room for future town buildings. "Although it's 57 acres, there's little developable land here because of wetlands and bedrock." Lee and the conservation commission are working to put a conservation restriction on the remaining Conant Land, excluding what has been designated for affordable housing. An added worry is the impact on the already-stressed water supply, said Lee, pointing out that the nearby fire station well has a trace of a pollutant.
Steve Tobin, head of the trails committee, echoed Lee's opinion that carrying out the current plan for affordable housing would have too great an impact on the conservation land. "The planned siting puts the development too close to the trail," he said.
Finally, Christina Murphy, who lives across the street from the proposed entryway to the complex, said she would like to see the entrance moved to prevent the widening of Rockland Road. She is also concerned about the impact of the proposed leaching field on her own water supply. Murphy said she believes that, regardless of the many concerns, this project will go forward, "In two Town Meetings, the town has shown it is for this."
Marj Findlay, a Rockland Road resident and organizer of the walk, emphasized her concern that people know what they're voting for at Town Meeting. "Once the land transfer takes place, the corporation [a non-profit formed by the housing authority and made up of residents to develop the land] can go ahead and do what they want with no further input from the town. There won't be a second chance to rethink this." She believes that those who walk the land and become aware of the issues will ask questions and have an impact on the final plan.
For those who missed the walk, residents can drive down Rockland Road or park in the Town Hall lot and take a short stroll to see the area. The housing authority's open forum was scheduled for April 12. There will be further discussion on the issue at the May 2 Town Meeting when the housing authority will present three articles for approval in order to proceeed with the project.
© 2000 The Carlisle Mosquito