Friday, December 8, 2000
Carlisle boards feel impact of town growth
Review goals, progress, frustrations, concerns
Growth in Carlisle is taxing town services and driving the work of town boards and committees. At their "All Boards" meeting on November 28 the selectmen reviewed their 2001 Goals and Objectives and each board gave a brief progress report, highlighting a pressing issue or a recent accomplishment.
Heavy demands on many boards and the need to plan for rising school enrollments, growing participation in recreation, and a larger elderly population, were frequently cited as major concerns. With continuing growth, new efforts are needed to integrate new people into the community, many of whom may not be aware of town regulations. In addition, several boards, including the housing authority, planning board and historical commission, expressed a desire to manage development so as to avoid a town of "mini-mansions" where lower-income families are excluded.
Michael Fitzgerald, chair of the board of selectmen, first reviewed the selectmen's 2001 goals and objectives, which are also the goals for town boards and committees (See list on page 6). Selectman John Ballantine asked if the list should include goals for technology upgrades.
Steve Opolski, chair of the board of health, responded that the lack of a computer network, which would allow sharing of computer resources, is costing the town money. "I just had to buy a printer, and there are printers all over," he said. Town Administrator Madonna McKenzie explained that the town has been waiting for delivery of equipment that was to be donated by EMC, but she is now investigating other avenues.
Ballantine later raised the need for a systems administrator to maintain and troubleshoot town information systems. "Lots of things are not totally working," he added. McKenzie said she is exploring the possibility of sharing a systems administrator with the school.
A summary of each board's report follows.
Simon Platt of the finance committee, characterizing himself as "The Grinch," reported his satisfaction with "the success of town meeting and the on-going support of tax-payers, which is recognized by Moodys." The Fin Com will conduct hearings on next years' budget starting in January. A goal for next year is to "get a picture of an entire department's expenditures, including expenditures from fees as well as money allocated out of the town budget." In response to a question from Ballantine as to how people feel the process works, Platt responded, "Negotiation is how it looks; cigars and brandy in small rooms." Seriously, he then pointed to the FinCom's success in "packaging requests for overrides to be palatable" to voters at town meeting. He pointed to support from McKenzie and Ann Vandal, the new town Treasurer/Tax Collector, as instrumental in the more polished and accurate reports at town meeting.
Kate Reed of the Planning Board expressed concern with homeowners piling stones or erecting structures in the town's roadside right-of-way. This is a problem for snowplowing, and for motorists or bicyclists who have nowhere to pull off. On public roads violators can be dealt with, but many of the problems are on private roads. Although the town can refuse to accept a road that has a violation, this may involve substantial cost to the homeowner if, for example, a stone wall is involved. More should be done to educate homeowners that the town's right-of way on most public roads is 25 feet from the center line (about ten feet from the edge of the pavement on most roads).
Reed reported the Planning Board was "appalled to discover that homeowners associations were requiring humongous houses of a minimum 4,000 square feet." According to Chaput, there may be little the town can do since owners enter into these agreements voluntarily. Reed also reported that "anti-mansion" laws, which limit house size, in towns such as Weston have resulted in a flood of applications for special permits.
Board of Appeals
Midge Eliassen from the board of appeals reported a busy year with many requests for variances arising from a demand for larger houses. The board is working to train themselves in the law and to determine common definitions for "reasonableness" and "hardship." A precedent was set this year with the determination that a tear-down on a non-conforming lot cannot be rebuilt. Once torn down, "there is no house." In response to a question from Chaput regarding using those non-conforming lots with small houses for affordable housing, she responded, "This would be an excellent way to have very small affordable housing scattered throughout the town."
Tom Broderick outlined three issues facing the Conservation Committee: 1) a budget inadequate for maintaining 900 acres of land; 2) the "work in exchange for living" at the Greenough house has been unsuccessful; 3) houses are being built too close to wetlands, often within the buffer zone.
Town Clerk Sarah Andreassen reported on the logistics of the recent presidential election at the town hall. According to Andreassen, 2910 Carlisle citizens voted out of 3344 registered. The longest wait was fifteen minutes. It took two hours to count the votes thanks to the help of some sixty volunteers. She does not see a need for voting machines which are expensive and hard to maintain. Andreassen knows of a district in Newton, approximately Carlisle's size, which has six machines and "at times the backup was over an hour."
Carlisle's crank machine which serves as the ballot box and counter was built in the 1930s, and has been refurbished by a clock repairman in town. There is a second one, which is available if the town is split into two districts with the next federal census, a possibility since Carlisle's population has passed the 5000 mark.
Andreassen also reported that town moderator Sarah Brophy has obtained a grant for cataloging historic town records and artifacts and asked that anyone who has items that may belong to the town get in touch with her.
Cindy Nock reported the school committee has been dealing with growth in both the Carlisle and CCHS populations. In Carlisle, a consultant is looking at options for additional space for recreation, lunch and "specials" (art, music, physical education, etc.) These spaces are currently "pushed to the limit." The Carlisle Castle playground is currently closed due to violations discovered during an inspection by the insurance company. As a result, "An inadequate playspace is now much more inadequate." Inexpensive repairs will be made and it is hoped this will satisfy the insurance company's major concerns.
The high school is projected to reach peak enrollment in 2005-2006, with Carlisle's percentage of the population growing at a faster rate than Concords'. Plans are being examined to renovate the old Industrial Arts Building to add classrooms. This along with other needed renovations is estimated to cost $11.5 million. A concern is that the state has cut the funding for town building projects and "we are low on the list." A teacher shortage is also a grave concern, especially in science and computers where "we can't keep people" even when pay is upgraded. The high school is also short four bus drivers with two more about to retire. A secretary and some maintenance people are filling in.
Long-term capital requirements
Lenny Johnson reported that the long term capital requirements committee is responsible for the maintenance and upgrading of the town's capital equipment. Johnson believes "the town has done well in meeting most of our capital needs." However, he warned that "the capital costs in a new school building are orders of magnitude over current equipment costs." He also expressed concern that the growth of the senior population in town will have an impact on capital requirements.
Board of health
Citing the recent review of the Congregational Church plan, Board of Health Chairman Opolski raised concerns that, in general, the town's site plan review "is a haphazard process." Other speakers bemoaned the "ping-ponging" between boards and the fact that boards early in the approval process may see the plan they approved radically changed by successive boards. Selectman Doug Stevenson wondered if the lack of rules and regulations for site plans, as opposed to developments, is part of the problem, and suggested a joint meeting of the involved boards might be useful. Fitzgerald agreed that "a kick-off meeting early in the process would let everyone know what the issues are."
Responding to a question concerning water quality in town, Opolski responded that the O'Rourke land is being considered as a source of town water, and a pump test is in progress.
Household waste committee
Dave Comstock reported that the household waste committee will be working on educating the public on recycling, "where materials go, and where they are used," as well as the metric tonnage of greenhouse gases saved through recycling in Carlisle. Information will be reported in the Mosquito and posted on the Carlisle website. Comstock would like to place more emphasis on home composing and is looking for someone to help in that education effort. He says he sees much yard waste in the trash bins, "and that's not good." McKenzie added that she is arranging a "thermometer swap" designed to keep mercury out of incinerators. In exchange for each mercury thermometer brought in, a new digital one will be given out.
James Davis, chair pro tem of the historical commission, explained his committee's responsibility for maintaining the historic district, and raised concerns with the process for approving site plans. "We would be happy to come last," he said, rather than be early in the review process and find out later that everything has changed." He also expressed the need to inform to new buyers of the historical district restrictions, mentioning a house on Bedford Road that went from white to yellow without the approval of the commission. "No one told us they were coming, and no one told them we were here," Davis added. The commission is also concerned with the trend toward mini-mansion building in Carlisle. Within the historical district they hope to prevent the demolition of small houses, which Davis calls "real affordable housing, not subsidized housing."
Al Lehotsky of the housing authority reported that his board has been receiving input from other boards on a long-term plan for affordable housing. One facet of the plan will be changes to rules and regulations to provide for developer contributions to affordable housing. The authority is also working with ConsCom and the municipal land committee in the hope of making affordable housing part of future land aquisitions. The planning board reported that they have made efforts to encourage affordable elderly housing, such as a recent change to rules and regulations which lowered the age for elderly housing eligibility, but "no one has jumped on it."
"We believe it is truly necessary to get [an affordable housing] program in place," added Fitzgerald.
Mary Cheever reported on the newly expanded Gleason library, where registrations and borrowings have increased. Most of the work is complete, although the HVAC systems have been problematic and are being fixed. The board is working on a landscape plan for the front of the building which will provide seating for passers-by. A new on-line catalog is being implemented which will be more user-friendly and allow reserves and renewals from home. To be consistent with other libraries in the consortium, Carlisle will go to a three-week loan period, instead of the current two. However, the popular "grace period" will be eliminated. The collection is growing, particularly in the areas of books on tape, videos, and DVDs.
Cheever expressed concern that "with the new hours and a larger building the staff is stretched thin." In particular, there have been many requests for expanded childrens' programming such as story hours for children younger than three. In addition, the pathway between the school and the library, which is pitch black at night, needs to be lighted.
Nancy Orlando detailed the activities of the youth commission which sponsors a monthly "Friday Night Live" for middle school students (grades 6-8) in town. Of 260
eligible, 200 to 220 have shown up at the two events since the beginning of this school year. The night entails basketball, a DJ, and food, and is very well chaperoned. A small amount of seed money was provided by the town, but the program is largely self-supporting through fees.
Maureen Tarca of the Recreation Commission reported, "We're booming." Programming has increased and enrollments this year topped 1,000. More programs could be offered but the RecCom is now limited by space. The summer program grew by 25% this year, and about 40 Carlisle teenagers are trained as counselors and employed in the program. The Banta Davis fields are "the jewel of this community and the envy of Concord." The RecCom has received nets and goals from Concord-Carlisle Youth Soccer and hopes to partner with CC Youth Soccer and Youth Baseball to build additional playing fields. Next year they hope to add two tennis courts and a basketball court on Banta-Davis. "We're facing growth issues as well," added Tarca, as evidenced by the need to turn people away from some programs such as tennis, skiing, and ceramics. It is hoped that future land aquisitions will include land for recreation.
Pedestrian and bicycle safety
Deb Belanger of the pedestrian and bicycle safety committee reported they are looking for engineering firms to evaluate the plan for the school loop path. Next year the committee will focus on signage and marking of crosswalks and the possibility of volunteer parent crossing guards. They have met with nine town committees and incorporated their suggestions.
Louise Hara of the Trails Committee reported they currently maintain 40 miles of trails through volunteers. They have sponsored walks, including a recent one the day after Thanksgiving which attracted fifty-five walkers. They have also recently updated the trails book, which is available at Town Hall. Next year the committee will focus on better signage and parking spaces at the many trails which have none.
Cable TV Committee
Ray Pichuloof the Cable TV Committee reported that the change from Cablevision to Media One/At&T has not been completed. AT&T has not made any commitments for expanded service in Carlisle, although a negotiation for license renewal next year will provide an opportunity to make requests. Carlisle's small subscriber base of 950 spread-out houses is not attractive. Cindy Nock suggested that any concessions from AT&T be gotten in writing, since promises they made to the high school were never been kept.
The boards and committees of town government have been successful in maintaining a quality of life in Carlisle that attracts people to the town. Fitzgerald referred to this double-edged sword when he congratulated the School Board on Carlisle's superior MCAS results,and ruefully added, "Expect a new influx of students next year." As most boards are finding, providing for and managing growth will be the major challenge facing the town in the next few years.
© 2000 The Carlisle Mosquito