Friday, November 16, 2001
ConsCom takes no position on Town Forest decision
The Carlisle Conservation Commission (ConsCom) has elected to play a waiting game in the increasingly emotional debate over the future of Carlisle's 67-acre Town Forest. While making it clear that they are not opposed to the selectmen's Warrant Article 7 that calls for a study to determine the practicality of a multi-use approach to that town-owned property, they were decidedly reluctant to take a stand before hearing the full-fledged debate anticipated during the November 27 Town Meeting.
Two sides of the issue were laid out at the commission's November 8 meeting, when Carlisle Housing Authority chair Marty Galligan and Carlisle Affordable Housing, Inc. representative Ed Sonn asked for a vote in support of Article 7, while a sizeable contingent from the 150 or so petitioners who have inserted a counter-Article 8 proposing to turn that same parcel over to ConsCom for conservation and passive recreation, also argued their cause.
Turning to a previous commission request that the study include a wildlife habitat assessment, Galligan reported that discussions with three biodiversity consultants had brought a unanimous recommendation that the survey be done during the spring breeding season, and he promised to specify its inclusion in the permitting process. ConsCom chair Tom Brownrigg sought further assurance that funding would be available for the wildlife study, since he was already aware of the presence of relatively rare bird species such as the Goshawk, Red Shouldered Hawk and Winter Wren. He added that he is also in the process of documenting a vernal pool and felt it would be appropriate to check two other significant depressions.
Preserving a beautiful spot
Vince Catacchio of Old East Street spoke up for the supporters of Article VIII, noting first that affordable housing as such was not what had occasioned their opposition, and that the petitioners had originally proposed putting a conservation restriction on the property in 1994. He said that for them it was a matter of preserving a beautiful spot. He revealed that a number of abutters had helped to maintain the "park" over the years and to keep it cleared for hikers, dog walkers, skiers and even Boy Scout campers. His pleas were seconded by Jane Quinn of East Meadow Drive, who felt that deleterious effects from development had already been felt in the wetlands and had changed a flowing brook to an intermittent stream. Cataloguing the varied wildlife encountered in the area as "more than I have ever seen in one place before," she exclaimed, "I would be devastated to see it change."
Paul Blanco of East Street reported that he too had seen changes in the environment over the last ten years, but in a different way. Ten years ago, a survey showed no wetlands on his property, he said, but today he has a definite wetland and an intermittent stream. "I'm sure the wetlands are growing," he observed. Commissioner Christine Kavalauskas agreed, calling the existing map "very conservative" and declaring that wetland boundaries "must be changed before anything happens."
Answering a recommendation from Catacchio that the housing committees should check with the state about the possible availability of the small acreage needed for housing somewhere at Great Brook Farm State Park or on other state property, Sonn pointed out that the present proposal is just a first step toward fulfilling the state mandate for creation of a ten percent pool of affordable housing. He suspected that park management might be approached in the future.
Request for support
Commissioner Peter Burn returned the discussion to Galligan's request for official commission support. Noting that in the case of the Town Forest the housing authority does not need ConsCom approval, he asked why commissioners should take a stand before they have heard a public debate on the issue of conservation versus affordable housing. Commissioner John Lee added, "The problem is that support now makes it hard later, if we can't support what you finally come up with. It's awkward at best, since there is nothing concrete to support at present."
Tom Schultz, a new Carleton Road resident, said his family had moved here because of the character of the town. "I agree that the town should debate this, but as a newcomer to town, I find the proposal shaky." He said he too feared that, "perception is reality."
Chair Brownrigg reminded his colleagues that the town is facing a shortage of land. Since there are already about 640 acres of conservation land in that quadrant of town, he basically supports finding out whether building affordable housing at the Town Forest is feasible. Kavalauskas agreed with Lee about "not pulling the rug out from under them [the affordable housing groups] later," and said she was not ready to support the article until there is a concrete plan.
Burn summarized his reaction saying, "I support the study, but I don't want to have the commission support it at this stage; I also oppose putting a conservation restriction on the Town Forest."
The final unanimous vote backed a Lee motion: "I move that the conservation commission not take a position on the feasibility study of the Town Forest as a site for affordable housing this action indicating neither support nor opposition."
© 2001 The Carlisle Mosquito