The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, February 16, 2001


The Tools to manage land acquisition and open space preservation

· Chapter 61. If the owner of forest, agricultural, or recreation land taxed at favorable rates (under Chapter 61) sells the land for conversion to residential or commercial use, the town has a right to first refusal to purchase the land. The town exercised this right to buy the O'Rouke farm, subsequently sold to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. (For more information on Chapter 61, see stories on pages 10 and 11.)

· Conservation cluster bylaws. Carlisle currently has a conservation cluster bylaw governing subdivisions which allows an additional building lot in exchange for putting 30 percent of the land into conservation. The Metropolitan Area Planning Council has drafted a new model bylaw governing subdivisions that changes the planning process for new cluster developments.

· Inclusionary Zoning. A tool not adopted by the Town of Carlisle, inclusionary zoning requires developers using the special permitting process either to pay into a fund or to build affordable housing. The Town of Westford has just tailored its zoning, conservation and health bylaws to guide developers, with the goal of achieving 40 percent conservation and 15 percent affordable-to-medium-income housing in each of its special permit developments.

· Tax title. The town stands to gain significantly from cooperating with a private developer in developing a landlocked piece of land in the Carriage Way subdivision, which the town had obtained by the tax title procedure. The land had been of little value until the subdivision provided access.

· Gifts of land. The town has been blessed many times with gifts of land. The most recent is the land given by Ben Benfield in the last month for conservation as a life estate. However, the town cannot depend on gifts as a land acquisition strategy.

· Community Preservation Act, enacted this past fall, allows the town to create a "savings account" for the purchase of land for conservation, housing and historic preservation. The state will grant additional funds. The town must vote to "adopt" the CPA in order to receive any monies already set aside by the state. It is commonly assumed that the first communities who adopt the CPA stand to benefit the most from the matching funds. (Also see story on page 1.)

· Eminent Domain. In the past, the town of Carlisle has used eminent domain to clear title on lands that are to be acquired. The municipal land committee does not perceive a need to resort to involuntary takings through use of this tool, although the town may need to use eminent domain to develop pedestrian pathways along some narrower roads.

· Conservation Restriction (CR). With a CR, a landowner permanently and irrevocably gives up the right to develop the land. In Carlisle, more than 40 CRs covering over 450 acres have been granted since 1973. Planners view the CR as an important and effective tool because it protects the land and provides a tax deduction, while allowing the landowner to continue to use the land.

· Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR). Land in a permanent farming agreement is eligible for funding from the state for the protection of those lands. The town recently received $320,000 for an APR on the Hutchins and Robbins (formerly Wang-Coombs) fields along Curve Street, but there are very few properties left that would fit the guidelines for an APR.

· Town purchase with limited development. Under this scenario, the town would purchase a piece of land, develop a plan to get the best value from it, and sell the land (or part) to a developer, with zoning changes, approvals and restrictions in place. Town officials envision purchasing land that could be split up for multiple uses, possibly including conservation, municipal uses and limited market development (e.g. senior or affordable housing mixed with market rate units). This basic strategy was used in part to acquire and develop Malcolm Meadows and the Robbins and Hutchins (formerly Wang-Coombs) fields. The Carlisle Land Trust has sometimes facilitated these transactions. Carlisle Affordable Housing, Inc. and perhaps other private groups hope to do the same.

· Observation of growth and responsible fiscal spending. The community needs to understand the past fiscal experiences and full consequences of spending on a new school building, as well as any land purchases.

2001 The Carlisle Mosquito