Friday, May 18, 2001
Close vote favors property rights over wetlands
by Seba Gaines
The Carlisle Conservation Commission (ConsCom) lost a close one, 78 to 80, in its attempt to gain a stronger hand for protecting the town's wetland resources at the Tuesday night Town Meeting. The negative vote on their proposal to extend ConsCom jurisdiction to isolated wetlands and vernal pools and to establish no-build zones surrounding all wetland features came after intensive debate and a succession of procedural oddities.
For starters, moderator Sarah Brophy recused herself from officiating on that single Warrant article, pleading conflict of interest. She nominated former selectman Ralph Anderson to take over as temporary moderator, and he was duly confirmed.
ConsCom spokesman Jonathan Beakley opened his remarks by requesting two minor amendments to the proposed Bylaw revision, which were accepted without opposition. But later, following Beakley's slide presentation, selectman Vivian Chaput offered an amendment supported by a majority of her board colleagues, which reduced the extent of the commission's proposed 100-foot setback area surrounding vernal pools to a 50-foot buffer. This amendment forced a hand tally and ended in a tie that had to be broken by none other than the acting moderator, who voted in the affirmative. A final change, proposed by George Senkler after an hour or so of debate, attempted to limit the application of the proposed bylaw to new development only, exempting current house lots from its provisions. It appeared that this amendment would invalidate the whole
Carlisle Wetland Bylaw, and it was rejected overwhelmingly.
In his formal presentation Beakley stressed that the ConsCom's purpose in proposing the bylaw amendments was not to prevent development but to assure responsible build-out. He emphasized that preservation of water resources is critical to Carlisle, due to its dependence on wells and private septic systems. Under the state's Wetland Protection Act, a conservation commission can regulate construction activity to prevent harm to the wetlands themselves, but can't protect the immediate uplands that help to recharge ground water, prevent pollution, reduce flooding and provide habitat for wildlife. When asked why Carlisle should be one of only 70 towns out of over 300 in the state that requires stricter wetland regulation, Beakley replied, "Carlisle is blessed with a lot of stuff that's well worth protecting."
Beakley's presentation was met by a barrage of homeowner misgivings. A Fiske Street resident suggested that the voters should think of the proposal not only in terms of developers but also of present landowners. Charles Parker articulated a fear that seemed to motivate much of the opposition, the perception that the commission was "seeking control over the homeowners' lawns, decks, patios and more." This clearly resonated with some voters in spite of Beakley's assurances that existing homes, lawns and auxiliary structures were expressly exempted.
The most extended statement of opposition came from realtor Brigitta Senkler, who called for "a balance between resource protection and government power." She predicted a cascade of lawsuits which, under local bylaw, must be heard in Superior Court, thus requiring a prolonged and expensive process for both the town and the landowner. Unfortunately for ConsCom, the specter of an overzealous commission forcing the landowner to protect himself in court appeared to sway many.
Planning board member Michael Abend admonished the attendees not to vote against the bylaw revisions because of fear of lawsuits. "In my experience, developers normally adapt their building plans to comply rather than going to adjudication," he noted. Saying that ConsCom was "thinking of the town's overall good," he called for an affirmative vote.
When the board of selectmen were asked to give the rationale for their stated support of the article, Chaput cited concern for the quality of the town's water resources, but selectman Doug Stevenson revealed a three to two split among the five board members. Supporter Wayne Davis made a final impassioned plea for adoption of the article, warning that were the town's ground waters to become contaminated, thus necessitating a town water supply and/or sewer treatment facility, not only would it prove expensive, "but you will lose the legal basis for your precious two-acre zoning." However, even that last minute caveat failed to push the vote over the top.
One last try
With the vote counted, and the Wetland Bylaw rejected by a handful of votes, a call for a recount was requested by Carolyn Kiely. Acting town moderator Ralph Anderson said he would allow a call for a reconsideration of the vote, but only if the population of the Town Meeting remained unchanged between the original vote and any reconsideration. At this point, a large number of the attendees joined those already leaving, rendering the possibility of a reconsideration moot.
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