Friday, August 18, 2000
Kettle hole infraction and restrictive covenant pose dilemmas
On July 31, the planning board dealt with issues ranging in importance from the authorized filling of a hole in the ground to the emergence of a trend that could change the future face of Carlisle with the proliferation of protective covenants on deeds.
A property owner's decision to fill in a hole on his property turned into a power struggle between the town of Carlisle and himself, and among members of the planning board. When Dave Bellinger, owner of Lot 15 in Pine Meadows subdivision, filled in what he considered to be a hazardous hole, he failed to consider that it was part of a drainage easement granted to the town by developer Bill Costello as a condition of the planning board's approval of the subdivision plan. Altering this link in the drainage system would jeopardize the final release of the subdivision. Therefore, it was requested that the stone fill be removed and its vegetation be restored.
A lengthy and heated discussion ensued with the property owner protesting that the kettlehole endangered neighborhbood children, chair Michael Epstein unsuccessfully attempting to gather support for a demand for the hole's restoration, and the rest of the board resisting a sudden determination.
Maple Street resident Kathleen Coyle objected to the hole's recent alteration. "I would like to see [the kettle hole] in its original state. I thought it was beautiful," she said.
Epstein expressed his displeasure at the unilateral action taken by the property owner. "We should talk about it before you take action. I don't want people to change things, then come back to us and say, 'This is better.' I don't want to set this precedent." Later he added, "Action was taken in violation of the plan. If the majority of the board wants to wait for awhile, I will be outvoted. I am the last remaining member of the board that approved the subdivision."
Board member and Maple Street resident Michael Abend, who had recused himself, spoke from the audience. "Technically, the board doesn't have power to make him [Bellinger] clear it out; [he can] leave it a few weeks. The precedent is already there. Releasing the subdivision is the trigger."
Epstein made a plea to the property owner. "I want the board to decide whether you are going to remove the stuff or if it will require a public hearing [including] everyone from Maple Street and our engineers."
The rest of the board discussed the practical implications of calling a public hearing should the hole not be returned to its original state. Should anyone but the applicant request a hearing, the town would be forced to bear the cost of holding the hearing, which requires three weeks of lead time for advertising. Some board members also questioned the environmental wisdom of further stressing the soil.
Epstein concluded by addressing Bellinger. "If you want to, amend the soil or work with Costello. I prefer for Costello to move for a change so that the town doesn't have to pay. We will have a hearing on the 11th of September if we need to amend the plan or move it on to the selectmen."
Great Brook Estates
After a routine discussion of the wording of wireless regulations, Albert Ira Gould came before the board seeking approval for his Great Brook Estates subdivision. It soon became clear that the board was uncomfortable with the explicit restrictions built into the protective covenants of the subdivision and their implications for Carlisle's future.
At first, the request for "four separate submissions which comprise documents for subdivision and conservation cluster and common driveways" seemed straightforward. But soon it became apparent that the documents examined by the board contained disconcerting restrictions.
Epstein confronted Gould with the problem. "We noticed that there are a lot of design guidelines we don't usually see. Why is there a minimum size of home, limitations on what people can do with property, what kind of animals they can have, and placement of their vegetable gardens? One thing that troubles me is that each house is to have no less than 4,000 square feet."
Gould maintained that other subdivisions in the Carlisle area now contain similar restrictions, and questioned the planning board's ability to alter his plans. In defense of the covenant stipulation that "no animals or fowl shall be kept or maintained on any lot except for usual and customary house pets," he explained, "I have been in situations where roosters have caused chaos in homes with close proximity."
Abend sought to distance the planning board from Gould's restrictions, asking, "Do you have a problem removing this from this document and putting it in later so that we can have a "hands-off?"
"I may be naive," added Epstein, "But I didn't know that other subdivisions were putting in these restrictions. It is a novel issue which we won't resolve tonight."
Board member Dan Holzman pointed out the conflict between town values and subdivision rules. "The town law says that you can have horses, so the homeowner's association is overriding that decision."
At last, Epstein summed up the board's reaction: "I have the general sense that we want to separate out aspects of the protective covenant that are not central to the design cluster...." Gould agreed. "I hoped for subdivision approval tonight but I will break down the document into one or two documents as suits this board."
The hearing was continued until August 21.
Somewhat similar restrictions were presented in the covenants of Hart Farm Estates, but as approval had already been granted, the project moved forward.
Board members expressed frustration that they did not have more control over subdivision rules, which bypass town bylaws and may alter the nature of the community.
© 2000 The Carlisle Mosquito