The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, March 22, 2002


Stop! Do you need a permit?

Inevitably every spring there are homeowners in Carlisle who fire up the chainsaw or start pushing the wheelbarrow and unknowingly violate town regulations. Residents, in particular new homeowners, are frequently not aware of the federal and state laws and town bylaws governing wetlands, streams, scenic roads and construction. In addition, new residents need an introduction to Carlisle's arrangement of septic systems and wells. There are many regulations that govern what homeowners can and cannot do with their property and at least four town departments are involved.

A quick trip to Town Hall by a resident would yield thorough information from the board of health, a brochure (in the process of being updated) from the conservation commission and no handout available from the planning board. Residents looking for information are best directed to the web site to peruse the town and zoning bylaws to understand their responsibilities. The web site is and is a very comprehensive listing of permits, fees and the application process.

Stone walls and trees larger than six inches in diameter are protected along Carlisle's scenic roads. (From the photo file of Ellen Huber)

Renovations, repairs and additions

Carlisle residents contemplating construction projects are well advised to meet with building inspector Bob Koning prior to implementing their plans. A building permit, electrical and plumbing permits may be needed, even for small projects such as a wood stove or garden shed. Failure to apply can result in fines. Koning looks at the overall plan and lets the homeowner know what regulations may apply. As building inspector, he makes the determination whether the project complies with zoning, and if not, what variances or special permits will be needed to go forward. Residents may also be directed to other boards whose approval they will need.

For every home construction permit the board of health needs to sign off that the proposed addition does not exceed the septic capacity. "People don't realize the need for a sign-off from the board of health until they are very far along," says board of health agent Linda Fantasia. " Sometimes this means a change in the scope of a project."

Fantasia advises, "Typically it's a good idea to give me a call. If the plans are okay, I give a letter. If there is some problem then they need to come before the board ­ may need a deed restriction or have to do a septic inspection."


That soggy area in your yard may very well be a wetland, vernal pool or a protected buffer area. Residents need permission from the conservation commission for any activity including tree or brush cutting, grading or construction within 100 feet of a wetland and within 200 feet of streams. The regulations and laws of the state and town forbid the dumping of grass, brush, leaves and dirt into wetlands area. Violations of these regulations and laws could result in a fine of up to $25,000 and restoration of the area. This can be a costly and time-consuming mistake for a resident.

A homeowner cannot determine whether a waterlogged area or a small hollow holding water is a vernal pool. If there is any doubt, concern or question, conservation administrator Sylvia Willard encourages residents to call her. Complying with the law involves filling out a permitting package and then appearing before the conservation commission. The conservation commission will determine whether the work needs to be regulated and what measures of control should be put in place.

Structures and landscape that were in place prior to the 1972 adoption of the Wetlands Protection Act are considered "grandfathered" according to Willard. However, any change or enlargement is subject to current regulations.

There are some activities that are considered minor and are exempt from regulation as long as they do not degrade the wetland or riverfront. These may include unpaved walkways, fencing that doesn't inhibit wildlife movement, stonewalls, stacks of cordwood, and pruning of landscaped areas. The determination as to whether your activity is exempt requires a simple call to the conservation administrator. Willard strongly encourages residents to call her for help, "Chances are they'll be able to do what they want to do as long as it is environmentally sound and has a minimal effect on the wetlands and abutting wetlands."

Street trees and stone walls

The plentiful trees along the roads and ubiquitous stonewalls that characterize many of Carlisle's roadways are protected under scenic road regulations, which control roughly 25 feet each side from the center of the road. Thoughts of spontaneously repairing the stonewall in front of your house, or cutting a few trees by the roadside to provide sun on your vegetable garden are best checked. All of these activities require a scenic road hearing before the planning board and the tree warden. On the following streets, trees over six inches in diameter must not be cut or pruned, or stone walls modified without a permit: Acton, Brook, Cross, Curve, Concord, East, Fiske, Lowell, Maple, North Road, Pope Road, Prospect, River Road, Russell, Rutland, Skelton Road, South, Sunset Road, and West Street. Additionally, the Massachusetts Shade Tree Act prohibits the cutting and pruning of trees within the right of way without permission from the town.

In recent years, there have only been a "handful" of problems according to town staff. Compliance with the interwoven regulations has been good overall. Fantasia summed the process as residents "applying their common sense."

2002 The Carlisle Mosquito