The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, November 2, 2001


ConsCom cautious on affordable housing proposal for Town Forest

The Carlisle Conservation Commission (ConsCom) agenda for its October 25 meeting contained two items on use of town-owned land to help solve pressing municipal needs. The first dealt with possible conversion of part of the 67-acre Town Forest to provide space for affordable housing, and the second concerned the proposal to site a cell tower on conservation land.

18 acres for affordable housing

Carlisle Housing Authority (CHA) chair Martin Galligan seeks commission support for his group's evolving plan to site two clusters of 12 units each of reasonably priced residences on the 67-acre Town Forest off East Street. Purchased in 1852 as part of a town farm for care of the poor, the present parcel was designated as Town Forest in 1923 and, though not classified as conservation land, it was placed under ConsCom management in 1994. Well aware that the town is under the gun to show progress toward meeting the state's affordable housing target of ten percent, the commissioners gave the request a cooperative, if noncommittal, ear.

Galligan told the commission that the 24 rental units should cover no more than 18 acres, with the remaining acreage available for other town purposes. Reflecting a sentiment apparently directed to him by constituents, commissioner John Lee asked whether there was interest in placing a conservation restriction on the entire forest or if members would consider backing Galligan's proposal. Commissioner Chris Kavalauskas indicated support for the housing committee, but said she would insist that funds be allocated for a wildlife habitat study before specific plans were drawn up. A slower approach was also called for by commissioner Peter Burn, who said he would not be comfortable voting on the matter without viewing the property and giving serious thought to all the implications.

Galligan stated that the CHA is planning to ask Town Meeting for $15,000 to engage engineers and draw up preliminary plans. This brought a comment from trails committee chair Steve Tobin, who felt that any engineering consultants should be people who really know Carlisle. Wayne Davis from the Carlisle Conservation Foundation added that while he is sympathetic to maintaining as much conservation land as possible, he feels that the study should include a comprehensive plan for the whole property. Reluctant to commit to any proposal before they had an opportunity to do a thorough site exploration, the commission scheduled a second meeting with Galligan for November 8.

No towers on conservation land

The second land-use agenda item again concerned the possible location of a cell tower on town-owned conservation land. Receipt of two letters, one from lawyers for the American Tower Company and the other from the state's director of the Division of Environmental Services Joel Lerner appeared to settle the matter. The commission had made it clear at their September 22 meeting that, because of stipulations governing change of use for conservation land bought with Self-Help Program funding, among other reasons, they could not support such siting. The requested opinion from Lerner summarized the state laws for change of use of conservation land require all of the following:

· Unanimous vote of the town's conservation commission to convert the land;

· Two-thirds affirmative Town Meeting vote;

· Two-thirds affirmative vote of the state legislature;

· Submission of an Environmental Notification Form to the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act Office; and

· Provision of compensatory land of equal monetary and conservation value.

In a concluding paragraph Lerner stated, "I would urge your commission to seek alternative sites , since this office would not look favorably upon such a conversion."

In view of the above, it is no surprise that the letter from the cell tower company attorneys that requested copies of all Self-Help Program agreements between the town and the Commonwealth pertaining to the "Malcolm Land, Davis Corridor and any other open space acquired with Self-Help funding," closed with the following comment: "Under the circumstances you may be pleased to learn that American Tower does not believe that it is prudent, or feasible, to attempt the Sisyphean task of making such lands available for a telecommunications facility."

2001 The Carlisle Mosquito