The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, February 16, 2001


A new approach to cluster zoning?

Planning board members Kate Reid and Louise Hara led the group discussing possible changes to the town's Cluster Zoning Bylaw. The focus of the session was on a model subdivision approach developed by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC).

Reid began by showing a standard subdivision submission for a parcel with a varied landscape, in which the developer and his engineer proposed to clearcut a major portion of the tract and drew in the roadways to fit in as many houses as possible. The various town boards then negotiated the details with the developer, sometimes at considerable length and with maximum conflict.

Joint planning process

Under the MAPC plan, the process would start with the applicant and representative members of the town boards sitting down and identifying what features of the site the town, and probably potential residents, might want to save, such as views, wildlife habitat or a stately stand of trees. The next step would be to draw in the houses in the areas deemed best for construction and aesthetics. Then, and then only, would the engineers be called in to site the roads, locate the utilities and draw in the final lot lines. In short, this process would look at the parcel as a whole to come up with a plan beneficial to all parties.

Thereafter Reid showed site plans developed under Carlisle's present Conservation Cluster Bylaw, pointing out some of the provisions that have resulted in a "cookie cutter" look, mainly requiring a 40-foot set back or a buffer area surrounding the entire site. Also, under the present law, the "open space" portion must be dedicated to conservation alone and precludes the town from requiring other beneficial features such as affordable housing units, ballfields or a swimming pool. What the planning board representatives were seeking was greater flexibility during the planning stages, while maintaining the 2-acre density ratio for the development viewed as a whole.

Incentives for developers

An important question is what incentives does the cluster offer the developer? Reid pointed out that, in addition to getting an extra unit, the clustering of houses cuts down on the infrastructure required. Also, if the MAPC process is followed, problems are worked out ahead of time, and a final permit is nearly assured.

There was some opposition voiced to cluster zoning as "visual pollution," but other participants cited the Malcolm Meadows Senior Housing Cluster as a good example of what advance planning could create. Others felt that a more dense condominium setup might be the only way to make it possible for town employees and "empty nesters" to stay in town.

The most cautionary comment noted the need to assure accountability, if greater flexibility is granted in the bylaw. Warned one participant, "Too many people in the business play around with words ­ You can't be too loose."

2001 The Carlisle Mosquito