Friday, June 16, 2000
ConsCom again debates the fate of Conant Land
Conservation commissioner Tom Brownrigg has raised a question that remained in limbo after the Town Meeting vote that rejected the proposal to build affordable housing on the Conant Land. At the board's June 8 meeting, he informed his colleagues that he would like to see a subcommittee formed to work on a conservation restriction (CR) for that town-owned tract.
Commissioner and abutter John Lee quickly picked up on the recommendation, describing the 53-acre Conant Land as one of the most beautiful and environmentally diverse tracts in town. He called up a picture of forested uplands, "stunning rock outcrops," an unusual walled brook that harbors a hawk rookery and teeming wetlands "all too susceptible to pollution. I can't think of another town in the state that can offer such a spectacular generation of woodland sounds to the passer-by," he argued.
While agreeing that the Conant Land is a lovely parcel, commissioner Claire Wilcox urged caution. Specifically, she felt the timing was wrong. "My concern is that we are running out of land," she explained, "and I'd like to save some of it and keep some for other town purposes."
Lee interjected that in his view the parcel is already a good example of mixed use, but commission chair Carolyn Kiely registered support for the Wilcox position. Noting that she had backed putting the remainder of the land under CR, had the affordable housing proposal been adopted, she was hesitant to do so at present. "I support a CR and want to see a large part preserved, but we should keep a good balance," she declared. Commissioner JoRita Jordan too was reluctant to "throw away potential," though she said she would have voted for a CR if the affordable housing had succeeded.
Former commissioner Tricia Smith, who was present for an executive session, pulled the diverse thoughts together and suggested a town-wide consideration of the problem. "I think we should stop nibbling at the land and make a master plan for managing it," she advised. Wilcox immediately expressed strong support for that approach.
Lee also favored planning, but felt it should "go forward 50 or even 100 years" and consider the entire area. He said a long-range approach would give the town the ability to purchase land that truly met the town's needs, when appropriate parcels became available. "The Conant Land does not meet those foreseeable needs," he insisted.
Smith then recommended immediate action on one environmentally important feature of the tract. "We should get all the vernal pools certified; there are at least two more there," she said. On that point, there was unanimous agreement.
Brownrigg closed the discussion by returning to his original proposal. "It [the Conant Land] is a magnificent property. I don't want to see Castle Rock looking out over buildings and roofs. It is such a diverse landscape, I'd like to see it preserved."
In the end, the discussion left an important question still open: Will the matter be pursued by the conservation commission, the municipal land acquisition committee, neither or both?
© 2000 The Carlisle Mosquito