Friday, April 21, 2000
Housing authority presents plans, fields questions
On Wednesday, April 12, a large and, at times, confrontational crowd gathered for a public forum on the Carlisle Housing Authority's plans to build affordable housing on the Conant Land. Residents packed Town Hall's Clark Room as Chair Marty Galligan, members of the authority, architect Jim Velleco, building committee member Ed Sonn and Carlisle Affordable Housing Inc. member Ralph Anderson reviewed plans and presented the Warrant articles to be voted on at the May 2 Town Meeting.
One of these articles would allow the selectmen to transfer, via lease, six acres of the Conant Land to a non-profit corporation, Carlisle Affordable Housing, Inc., (CAHI) which would then act as the developer for the project.
Velleco of Grazado Velleco Architects, designers of the site plan, began by describing his firm, which has been involved with 11 affordable residential projects working with housing authorities in Sudbury, Bedford and other towns in Massachusetts. He presented the plan for the Carlisle site which includes seven rental units in three New England-style buildings: the first (closest to Westford Road) to contain one three-bedroom unit and two two-bedroom units; the second building to contain two two-bedroom units, and the third to contain one three-bedroom and one two-bedroom unit. Each three-bedroom unit would be 1,280 square feet and each two-bedroom would be 1,007 square feet. Plans show the buildings set back about 50 feet from Rockland Road and extending about 300 feet end to end.
Velleco then explained that there had been some slight changes since this site plan was drawn up. To conform with Carlisle Board of Health requirements, which are stricter than state Title 5 regulations, the third unit had to be moved farther away from the second so that there is100 feet rather than 80 feet between them. The site has limitations due to the existence of wetlands and the proximity of a well across the street, and keeping that in mind, six acres must be set aside to meet board of health requirements. Only about one acre would be built on.
Velleco then presented a sketch of what the buildings would look like from Rockland Road. The sketch was drawn as though it were possible to see all three units at once from a vantage point across the street; in reality, no more than one or two units would be visible as one walked by. He pointed out that the parking areas would have minimal visual impact and the units are planned to look like three single-family homes, with a typical Carlisle colonial look.
Questions from the audience centered on sight lines and visibility. John Lee of Lowell Street, who is also on the conservation commission, expressed concern that clearing of trees behind the first unit would make it visible from the town center. Velleco countered that about 15 feet behind the building would be cleared, and he didn't believe that visibility from the center would be an issue. Another question regarded the impact of clearing in front of the buildings, which Valleco agreed would be substantial. However, he assured the audience, "We'll save as many trees as we can and supplement where needed." Dale Ryder of Lowell Street questioned the proximity of the third building to Castle Rock. Velleco appearing unprepared for the question, consulted the map, estimated the distance at 500 feet and then, after groans from the audience, revised his response to 200 feet as a more likely answer.
Affordable housing non-profit
Anderson then described Carlisle Affordable Housing, Inc., the non-profit corporation which would develop the property. The corporation was formed in 1989 by the Carlisle Elderly Housing Association, and is a tax-exempt, self-sustaining organization which reinvests all moneys it receives. It can accept tax-deductible donations, take out loans, and apply for grants in support of affordable housing . In addition to Anderson, voting members include Galligan, Sonn, Tom Bilotta, and Laura Snowdon. By using a corporation, the town can avoid prevailing wage and other laws which would add to the costs of development.
Having been dormant for some years, the organization's next step, assuming success at Town Meeting, would be to apply to the Carlisle Board of Appeals for a comprehensive permit. This permit would allow the group to override Carlisle's health and zoning regulations. It is unclear whether the group will seek to override the board of health's requirement to double the size of the leaching field for garbage grinders which won't be in the units. The permit will be necessary for the increased density.
Questions then surfaced on the accountability of the corporation to the town. Galligan conceded that if all goes as planned, after the land transfer is approved, there will be no need for additional approvals from Town Meeting. He then added, "This will be a test project for future affordable housing, and our goal is to do what's right for Carlisle. The townspeople must feel we are a responsible organization that meets the needs of the town." Housing authority member Hal Sauer added, "The route we're pursuing, known as a Local Initiative Permit (LIP), requires sign-off by the selectman and board of appeals. The intent is heavy local involvement throughout." Selectman Vivian Chaput pointed out that Warrant Article 21 requires selectmen review before the lease can take effect.
Wayne Davis of Concord Street remained unconvinced. "What is this corporation, who appoints the members, and how do we avoid conflicts of interest?" alluding to the membership overlap between the corporation and the housing authority. Sonn responded that the corporation's bylaws allow for voting members to be appointed by the Carlisle Elderly Housing Authority board of directors. Using the existing corporation was a convenience, and the expectation is that two groups will become independent. He reiterated that if the town develops the project directly, it must conform to prevailing wage and Davis-Bacon laws, whereas the non-profit corporation does not. He then ventured the opinion that more voting members could be added if there were an interest.
Anderson then pointed to a pamphlet issued by the state which recommends development through a corporation and sets out three forms of organizationone of which "mirrors" the membership of the housing authority. "We're doing this to shield the town," Sonn said, "We're not trying to pull a fast one." He added that all laws, including conflict of interest, apply.
Lee then asked, "Would it be possible to include someone from Rockland Road in the membership?" Anderson responded, "If they were committed to making it work, not obstructing the process."
Molly Sorrows of Acton Street then asked if the corporation would be pursuing other options for bringing affordable housing to Carlisle. Anderson responded that the corporation will initially focus on this project as a trial run. If it is successful, other projects will follow. Sorrows then stated her opinion that the corporation should be representative of the town. Galligan agreed, adding, "People in the (Rockland Road) neighborhood have made useful suggestions throughout this process. We would certainly welcome their continued participation."
The right alternative?
Bedford Road resident Ron O'Reilly stood up to proclaim his support of affordable housing while also supporting "protecting the nature of Carlisle." He then posed the question, "Isn't this just a local group doing to Carlisle what we don't want an outsider to do?" He added, "This is too few units to provide us any protection." By law, unless 10 percent of a town's dwellings are affordable, a developer can appeal to the state for a comprehensive permit.
Anderson countered, "We must be seen to be moving in the right direction" to build goodwill with state officials who may someday be in a position to rule on such a request. The only alternative for affordable housing would be to change the zoning laws to allow for higher density, a route the town would not want to pursue. Anderson admitted "We're not safe till we reach 10 percent, but that won't happen for a long, long, time."
Articles 20, 21, and 22
Galligan went on to describe the articles to be presented at Town Meeting. Article 20 will probably not be moved as it won't be needed for this land tranfer. Article 21, requiring a two-thirds vote, would allow the selectmen to transfer the land to the developing corporation, and Article 22 would provide $20,000 to the corporation to cover the costs of getting started, including grant application fees, septic testing and wetlands-flagging.
Article 21 generated several questions on the need to transfer the land immediately. Roy Green, who described himself as "a new resident of Carlisle who has worked in affordable housing and whose heart is in this," summed up the comments of several when he asked, "Aren't we putting the cart before the horse?" He suggested an option to purchase or lease might be pursued, rather than immediate transfer of the land. Galligan countered that one of the grants they will apply for requires "site control," and without the passage of Article 21, Carlisle Affordable Housing will not be successful in raising the money needed. The corporation hopes to obtain a Community Development Block Grant from the state Housing and Community Development, and an Affordable Housing Program grant from the Federal Home Loan Bank.
Indian Hill Road resident Tricia Smith questioned the need for the town to assume the $20,000 cost, as specified in Article 22. Galligan responded that the corporation has no money for moving the project forward. When pressed as to the status of the $30,000 already allocated to the housing authority, Galligan quickly ran through the numbers and indicated that $6,180 remained unspent.
Concern also surfaced as to the financial viability of the project and the degree to which the built project could differ from what was being presented. In response to a question, housing authority member Shelley Orenstein confirmed that while the current goal is five affordable units and two market rate, this ratio (and maybe even the number of units) could change depending on the funding received. This bothered Sharyl Stropkay of Rockland Road who responded, "I worry that once we relinquish control, money will drive the process. I want to see affordable housing on Rockland Road, but worry that what we'll end up with will be so different from what is being presented here." Galligan reiterated that the selectmen will review and approve the final plan before anything is built.
Some residents asked if the size of the project could be reduced, thereby minimizing the impact on the trails and Castle Rock. Dorthea Kress, housing authority member, stated emphatically, "The project is as small is it can be and still be financially viable." When asked the financial impact of reducing the project to five units, Kress estimated $200,000 would have to be found.
Praising the architects for their sensitivity to the conservation issues, Rutland Street resident Marj Findlay raised the possibility of moving one building to another site. Valleco responded that, while scattered units may be possible, the best economies are realized by building in one place.
Louise Hara, a member of the trail committee and planning board, questioned the feasibility of a different configuration, perhaps seven units in two buildings, or even one. Valleco was unsure this would work because of topographical constraints. The three-building configuration was chosen because it maintained the look of houses; a larger building would look more obviously multi-family, he said.
Anderson then received some nods of approval with his suggestion that, in the future, the town set aside a portion of all land purchases for uses other than conservation: "Then, in the future, we wouldn't have to concentrate in one area."
Water and road issues
Percolating in the background throughout the evening was the question of impact on roads and water supplies in the center of town. Rockland Road resident George Fardy summarized, "Rockland Road must be widened [to accomodate the extra cars at the housing development] and the cost has not been worked out. The fire station has shown methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) is in their well. What if MTBE shows up here and we can't lease it? No one has seriously looked at town center water."
Discussion became heated as the issue of water migration was explored. Could adding this development cause problems with nearby wells? Several town residents have had wells that tested positive for MTBE. Celia Zimmerman of Bedford Road stated her concerns that the state may drop the allowable MTBE level to zero. "Then what are we going to do?" Zimmerman later said that she had learned that day, in going through board of health records, that in 1998 her well had MTBE. She also worried about large fluctuations in readings for wells. She claimed, too much is unknown and queried why anyone would want to exacerbate the issue.
In a telephone interview, board of health agent Linda Fantasia explained, "The board of health sends copies of the results of water testing to the homeowner. I'm sure she [Zimmerman] would have gotten the results if we did it. If the testing was done by DEP [the state Department of Environmental Protection] or 21E Inc [Daisy's licensed site professional], that might not be the case, although we request that they send results too." Fantasia confirmed that a February 28, 1998 board of health test of Zimmerman's well showed 3.3 parts per billion of MTBE; 70 ppb is the upper level state guideline. No further testing was done by the board of health. Fantasia also confirmed that some sites show fluctuations. One well went from 53 ppb to 320 ppb in six months. She said she didn't know the reason but suspected faulty filters. The Water Quality Subcommittee has not been surprised by any of their findings.
Once again, questions were asked about blasting. Galligan said that, based on the test holes, they don't see that any blasting will be needed. Sauer added that, although he couldn't provide a guarantee, the outcropping on Rockland Road could probably be sheared off without blasting.
There were also questions about why all of the units could not be affordable. In essence, Galligan said that all would be affordable. However, typically towns have a mix of housing in their first project because they need the cash flow. Selectman Vivian Chaput added that the selectmen preferred the mix for social reasons and for the additional funds which would help with maintenance.
Rental of the units was determined to be preferable over sale because, under the non-profit corporation's manage-ment, the units would stay maintained and affordable in perpetuity, according to Sauer. Otherwise, there is a limit on their sales price and therefore, a question as to how much owners might want to spend on maintenance. There is also question as to how long they would remain affordable.
As far as costs, Sonn said that the non-profit corporation would first seek some grants. A large portion of the costs would be financed and Galligan was hopeful that funding from the town's sale of the Carriage Way lot might help close the gap. In the second phase, incoming rents would be used to offset mortgage and maintenance costs. The group did not anticipate having cost estimates available for Town Meeting.
© 2000 The Carlisle Mosquito