The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, March 22, 2002


CR proposed on conservation lands buffering Estabrook Woods

A 67-acre conservation restriction (CR) was proposed by the Carlisle Conservation Restriction Advisory Committee to cover a collection of town-owned conservation parcels located near Harvard University's Estabrook Woods. At two meetings, on March 12 and 19, selectmen asked many questions of advisory committee members Ken Harte and Wayne Davis but could not reach a consensus on whether or not to place the proposal on the Warrant for the Spring Town Meeting. An unresolved issue is whether any of the parcels may be potential cell tower sites.

The CR would be given to the private Massachusetts conservation organization, The Trustees of Reservations (TTOR), and would cover the Malcolm Land (23 acres), Carr (6 acres), Deacon (7 acres), Rockstrom (8 acres), Sachs (9 acres), and Buttrick Woods (14 acres.) Similarly, TTOR and the Carlisle Conservation Foundation (CCF) are drawing up CRs to be given to the town on two parcels they own: the 11-acre Malcolm Preserve (adjacent to the town's Malcolm Land), and CCF's 14-acre Poole Swamp.

Why place a CR on conservation land?

The proposed CR would add another layer of legal protection to town-owned parcels already designated as conservation land. If a conservation restriction was given to TTOR, then TTOR would also have to agree to any change of use of the conservation land.

The idea of placing CRs on town-owned conservation lands was first implemented in Carlisle in 1996, when the town granted TTOR a conservation restriction on the 126-acre Davis Corridor as part of the project to preserve Estabrook Woods.

Estabrook Woods preservation project (click for MAP)

During the 1990s, Harvard University was concerned that development around its 672-acre Estabrook Woods would degrade the wildlife habitat to the point that it became useless as a research station. Most of the Woods is located in Concord, but 69 acres lies in Carlisle. Harvard agreed to permanently protect Estabrook Woods if the two towns would also permanently protect at least 400 acres of land buffering Harvard's holdings. Public and private organizations worked together on the project, include the towns of Carlisle and Concord, the private Carlisle Conservation Foundation (CCF), TTOR, and the Concord Land Conservation Trust.

The Trustees of Reservations served as a neutral conservation organization that would receive and monitor the conservation restrictions on the lands buffering the Woods. TTOR, founded in 1891, owns over 90 historic or open space properties in Massachusetts, and holds conservation restrictions on many more. They own and maintain the Old Manse in Concord, and also maintain the field and handicapped-trail on the Malcolm Preserve, which they own jointly with CCF.

Unfinished business

In January of 1997 Harvard University recorded at the registry of deeds a statement of public charitable obligation to permanently protect Estabrook Woods. Harte said that Harvard did so with the understanding that the recently acquired Malcolm Land and Malcolm Preserve, part of the 400-acre buffer land, would be permanently protected by conservation restrictions. Protection via conservation restrictions was explicitly called for in Harvard's statement.

While protection of the Carr, Deacon and Sachs parcels was part of the Estabrook preservation project, it had not been completed by January of 1997, and was not included in the 400-acre tally. Buttrick Woods was acquired later as the open space resultant from a conservation cluster development. It was not part of the original project, but the conservation restriction advisory committee decided to include it in the CR, because the land lies near Estabrook Woods. The conservation commission wrote a letter in favor of the CR to the selectmen.

When asked in a later phone conversation why the CR had not been completed during 1997 or 1998, Harte said just that the volunteers who were working on it became busy with other projects. Wayne Davis told the selectmen that the committee has been working on the conservation restriction for about a year and a half and had waited until questions about putting cell towers on the Malcolm Land had seemed to be resolved before bringing the CR request before the board of selectmen.

Cell tower question

However, the cell tower issue had not all been resolved, because selectman Vivian Chaput asked if any of the parcels were under consideration for a possible cell tower site, and town administrator Madonna McKenzie said that the Malcolm Land was on the list of possible sites. There was confusion about whether the Malcolm Land was actually conservation land. Harte verified that it was, by quoting from the deed, "to the Town of Carlisle, through its Conservation Commission, for administration, control and maintenance under the provisions of General Laws Chapter 40."

It is a multi-step process to change the classification of conservation land in order to use it for something else, such as a cell-tower site. Conservation lands are protected under article 97 of the articles of amendment to the state constitution, and in order for the town to change the use of such land, there must be: unanimous vote of the conservation commission, vote by the selectmen to place it on town meeting, 2/3 majority vote of town meeting, and 2/3 majority vote of both houses of the state legislature.

In the case of the Malcolm Land, the town received a grant of $83,000 in state self-help funding when the land was purchased for conservation, and state policy would require two additional steps in order to allow a change of use. According to a letter from Joel Lerner, Director of the state Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, sent to the conservation commission in October of 2001, the town would need to submit an environmental notification form with the Massachusetts environmental policy act (MEPA) office. Also, the town would need to "provide suitable compensatory land of equal monetary value and conservation utility as outlined in the self-help program project agreement and regulations.Furthermore, any proceeds realized from locating a cell tower must go back to the conservation commission (MGL. Chapter 44 Section 63.) "

2002 The Carlisle Mosquito