Friday, November 9, 2001
Neighborhood moves to block development on Town Forest
Over 100 signatures were obtained for a Warrant article by petition to place the 69 acres of the Town Forest under a conservation restriction. The article will be voted on at Town Meeting November 27. The restriction would thwart the plans of the housing authority, which has presented a Warrant article for a $15,000 study to assess the feasibility and cost of siting 12 to 24 units of affordable housing on that land.
Vince Catacchio of Old East Street spoke for the neighborhood group presenting the petition. "We want to keep the Town Forest as is. It's been there over 100 years." Pointing to a previous petition in 1994, he added, "We're not looking to stop any particular activity but to preserve the land." Catacchio spoke of ways town residents currently use the Town Forest; for hiking, dog walking, and camping with the Boy Scouts. "East Street is one of the main roads into town . . .this has always been a park and should stay that way."
Selectman Doug Stevenson, expressed reservations with the article. "We've discovered in the past, once a piece of land is transferred under the control of ConsCom, we can't get control back." He added, ConsCom's decisions for the land "may not provide the greatest benefit for the town as a whole" and that strict rules will be enforced which may prevent many current activities, "including camping on the property."
FinCom member Tony Allison anticipates his committee will not support the article. "This land could be sold for at least eight to ten million dollars. Placing this piece of land under a conservation restriction would reduce its value as an asset, possibly to zero."
According to town counsel Paul DeRensis, the Warrant must be accepted because it has the requisite number of signatures. However, the wording of the Warrant is faulty, as it fails to recognize that the power to make the transfer resides with the selectmen. Town Meeting Warrant can approve a transfer, but the selectmen must declare the land "surplus" and vote to place it under a restriction. It was agreed that though the wording can't be changed when the Warrant is published, it can be read at Town Meeting using the correct form.
The selectmen gave no indication as to whether they would enact the transfer if the article passes. "Of course the selectmen always vote with the mandate of the town," opined an optimistic Catacchio. Said chairman John Ballantine, "We listen to Town Meeting and the Town Meeting debate." Unspoken, however, was that at a meeting October 9, the selectmen had voted "reasonable support for a broad-ranged approach" to developing the Town Forest, a stance which seems at odds with placing the land under restriction.
© 2001 The Carlisle Mosquito