Friday, November 23, 2001
Selectmen split on Town Forest feasibility study: Question timing of affordable housing initiative
In a discussion of Article 7 of the Warrant to be presented at Town Meeting November 27, the selectmen supported the goal of developing more affordable housing in Carlisle but questioned whether now was the time to push ahead. "We won't go forward with a capital plan (for affordable housing) in the spring," said chairman John Ballantine, citing a raft of other demands on town funds which must take precedence.
Article 7 calls for a study to determine the feasibility of developing the Town Forest on East Street for affordable housing, playing fields, and other uses. The selectmen met on November 13 to take positions on the Warrant articles, and while Articles 1 through 6 were recommended with little discussion, Article 7 proved a sticking point.
A difficult time for new initiatives
Noting that the Town Forest study is the first step in preparing a request for development funds to be approved at Spring Town Meeting, selectman Tim Hult said, "Spring will be a difficult time to fund new initiatives." He pointed to the likelihood that articles for the school building and school septic projects and the possibility of a substantial operating override would make springtime voters less than receptive to a costly affordable housing plan. According to Hult, an eight to ten percent tax increase may be necessary due to increasing high school requirements. He also noted it is now too early to apply Community Preservation Act funds to the Town Forest study, whereas waiting would allow time for those funds to be cleared for use. As CPA funds are matched by the state, use of those funds would lower the burden for Carlisle taxpayers.
A study with no further action?
Ballantine questioned the value of a study resulting in no immediate action. "It might be nice to know what's possible there for long-term planning," interjected selectman Carol Peters. Agreed Ballantine, "It would be useful to know if the costs just don't make sense." Ballantine also suggested that passing this article would show Carlisle's commitment to affordable housing.
Peters pointed to the "volunteers impacted by having to wait" and underlined the need to support the people who have committed time and energy to an affordable housing plan. "This study gives them information that allows them to move forward." Hult added, "I would hate for a negative vote to be (seen to be) indicative that we don't support affordable housing." Selectman Vivian Chaput added that, with the study in hand, the affordable housing committee could start planning and applying for technical assistance grants.
Chaput affirmed that, "Most of us [selectmen] feel it's important to do this plan," but questioned the need to move ahead without CPA funds. Ballantine admitted the process seemed "a little rushed" and he would have wished for "a little more preplanning and thought." But Hult pointed to the long history of inaction on affordable housing, saying, "There's always a reason to put it off."
Hult summarized his position to "support this now, but be careful in the spring." Referring to the Conant Land plan for affordable housing, defeated at Town Meeting in 1999, he added, "It would not be good to lose another significant vote, and it's highly unlikely this would pass." The selectmen then voted to support Article 7 three to two, with Chaput and selectman Doug Stevenson against.
Article 8 to put the Town Forest under a conservation restriction was opposed unanimously without discussion.
Arguments for/against Article 7
· Provides information for long-term planning
· Supports and maintains the momentum of the Carlisle Housing Authority and Carlisle Affordable Housing Inc. and allows them to start applying for grants.
· Shows Carlisle is committed to developing affordable housing.
· There is no hurry competing demands mean selectmen and voters are unlikely to support a request for funding for affordable housing within the year.
· Waiting would allow us to use CPA funds.
· Waiting would allow more time to plan what we want to do.
© 2001 The Carlisle Mosquito