Friday, December 14, 2001
Don't shoot the messengers
By now, everyone in town has noticed the changes at our post office the barrier table designed to route traffic to the two business stations, the merchandise displays that have displaced the lovely wall hanging someone made for the office when it first opened on Bedford Road. Some of you may have even noticed the latest "innovation": a new phone number that applies to all post offices. The local number has been disconnected, replaced by 1-800-ASK-USPS, a system that leads you through ten automated options before you reach a human being, who will record your comments or questions and e-mail them, not to your local postmaster, but (to quote Tia, who was my final phone destination) to a "general complaint manager," who will then e-mail your comments to Carlisle. (Does it seem a little ironic that the U. S. Postal Service, a communications company whose business has been eroded by the increased use of e-mail, should use e-mail as part of a very convoluted communications system?)
All of this is part of a process to gradually replace our post offices, great and small, with "McMail Centers." Rumor has it that we may see a day when our mail facility moves to Bedford. Unfortunately, all this "Improvement" has happened to a small post office that wasn't broken to begin with, and in the process has threatened to disrupt the sense of community that the Carlisle Post Office has always engendered.
Fortunately, though, we still have the familiar faces who have represented the postal service here in town for so many years. Rick still asks about our children; Kevin still helps hapless newspapers with their distribution; our mail carriers sort and deliver our mail even in the bleakest of times, when their very health may be threatened. These are the people who keep the Postal Pantry box in the lobby year-round to help needy families and remind us all of our blessings. These are the people whom we should thank, not harangue. The edict for change has come from on high, so if you feel like registering a complaint, don't shoot our messengers. Instead, give Tia a call, or better yet, write to "Rural Express," c/o QWL/EI Office, 45 Alpine Lane, Chelmsford, MA 01824-9604. I'm sure they'd love to get mail.
Put it on "the other side of town"
We sometimes see Carlisle as an island, immune from the problems that affect neighboring communities. Over the past few years, we have learned that Carlisle has more in common with our neighbors than we think. As it turns out, we too have the dreaded NIMBY ("Not In My Backyard") demons to deal with when it comes to locating municipal projects.
I became aware of the local NIMBY attitude when I received a phone call from a resident complaining about the lousy cell phone coverage in town. When I informed her that a communications firm had proposed placing a tower near her neighborhood she became irate, claiming that the neighbors would fight against that specific location. She went on to say that cell towers belonged on "the other side of town."
Apart from the "regulars," Town Meeting often attracts citizens with a specific agenda of voting for or against a project that directly affects their neighborhood. A packed hall often results in the voting down of worthy projects not for their lack of merit but based on their location. We have voted down affordable housing proposals for the Conant Land, and recently even the mere suggestion of an affordable housing project on the Town Forest brought significant neighborhood opposition. We have spent years attempting to place the school's septic system on the lower Banta Davis property, spending more time in court than rectifying the failed system. Neighbors always seem to believe that these projects belong somewhere else.
We have a problem: either we act on these issues or external forces will resolve them for us. The state mandates that we work towards a ten-percent level of affordable housing stock. We are nowhere near that objective and have not made any progress towards it in years. The absence of an adequate number of affordable housing units will continue to erode Carlisle's diversity and will open the door for private developers to utilize the comprehensive permit process to override our zoning regulations. In the case of cell towers, federal law prohibits local communities from excluding them. The absence of a proactive approach to cell tower siting may result in communications companies suing the Town (as they have in Lincoln and Concord) to place a tower in a location that does not coincide with Carlisle's rural character. And if we do not deal with the school's septic system soon, we run the risk of enforcement action by the Board of Health and the DEP.
These problems should lead us to the realization that while we strive to preserve and protect land for conservation purposes, we cannot continue placing permanent restrictions on all Town-owned parcels. Land acquired for municipal purposes should be appropriately and responsibly used for such projects. In addition, we need to begin selectively acquiring property that could serve municipal needs with minimum neighborhood impact.
Last year the Municipal Land Committee completed a comprehensive study of the Town's municipal land requirements. They should be commended for their work. Now it is time to identify potential sources of needed land and begin putting together an acquisition program.
From affordable housing to cell towers and, yes, to leaching fields, we have a defined need for municipal land. The need will not disappear. While we, as a community, must act responsibly in designing, developing and distributing these projects around the town, residents should remain open-minded, understanding that compelling community needs sometimes, regrettably, may impact one neighborhood more than another.
© 2001 The Carlisle Mosquito