Friday, May 31, 2002
It is arguable whether tear-downs represent the natural evolution of neighborhoods and housing or the degrading of established character. In no place is this debate more evident than on Stearns Street.
Longtime Stearns Street resident DeLores Cook recalls the lazy feeling the neighborhood had years ago, so much so, that there was frequently a dog asleep in the middle of the road. Cook describes Stearns Street this way: "It has always been a beautiful street with lilacs and forsythia and the trees arching over the road to the view down Two Rod Road."
Cook's proximity to Two Rod Road Trail at the bend in Stearns Street leading into the Estabrook Woods and on to Punkatasset Hill in Concord came with a curious obligation. Many an evening, hikers would knock on her door unsure of where their hike had led them. Cook was only too happy to drive them back to their cars several miles into Concord. "It was just a different time."
Longtime resident at the corner of Baldwin Road and Stearns Street, Susan Emmons recalls the many changes over the past 30 years. One early change to the neighborhood was the development in the late 1960s of Woodridge Road, which neighbors were unhappy about because the road opened up a new area to be developed off Baldwin Road.
Development of Rodgers Road
The development of Rodgers Road, off Stearns, in the 1980s originally was viewed as not fitting in. "It seemed like a big change for such a modest neighborhood," stated Emmons. Today, according to Emmons, it has become "part of the neighborhood and a good place for kids to ride bikes." Although there are many concerns about Stearns Street, Emmons adds, "Interesting things happen on Stearns Street. In addition to all the tear-down and building activity, it has three homes with horses, a sled dog kennel, the senior housing complex, a conservation field with handicap trail and access to the Davis Corridor and Estabrook Woods, the magnificent Jewell landscape and the Baliestiero's restoration of the very-long-neglected farmhouse with attached barn."
The addition of the senior housing units at Malcolm Meadows represents another significant change. The Malcolm family farmed the land for many years growing strawberries and raspberries, that they took to market in Boston . The land was developed in the 1990s into the current senior housing, conservation lands and trails. "Allan Malcolm did not need a 5,000 square foot home, as he lived in a roofed-over cellar hole for many years. Such hobbit-like compatibility with the land is probably discouraged in the mega-house era," comments Don Emmons.
Older residents recall being allowed to garden on the Malcolm land for many years. The neighbors enjoyed the strawberry fields and raspberry patches that Malcolm would open up for picking during the season. Despite nostalgia for the Malcolm farm, Cook describes Malcolm Meadows as "a wonderful job done with the lands and preservation."
"Malcolm Meadows provides access to the conservation lands and paths, according to Susan Emmons. "I feel a sense of community with Malcolm Meadows, I think that it was a nice addition."
Another neighbor who has lived on Stearns Street since 1980, Pliny Jewell III says, "The biggest change was on the Malcolm land. I was sorry to see the open land go."
Jewell commented that "there is a certain amount of gentrification. Several trophy homes being put up ... but it happens." The Jewell family moved here from Concord to have "a piece of property where we could run our landscape business on our property. We loved the house and could use the carriage house to run our business."
An erosion of the country character in Carlisle
Jewell lamented the recent changes, "Too bad. [It's] slowly eroding the country character of Carlisle packing a house into every vacant parcel. Stearns Street houses were very small, tiny Capes with two bedrooms. Now, as they are gobbled up [we] get big mansions being put up." Jewell notes that in some cases the houses are "not worth restoring. But who wants or needs [larger houses]?"
The average size of a new home in the US, according to the 2000 census, is 2,266 square feet. In 1970 the average was 1,500. The tear-down homes average 1,720 square feet. The new homes being constructed average 5,640 square feet. The changes on Stearns may be a reflection of changing tastes and a desire to be in a mature neighborhood with diverse housing rather than in a subdivision with protective covenants which often regulate clothes lines, pets and house color.
Laura Baliestiero lives in a 200-year-old farmhouse on Stearns Street that she and her husband restored. The Baliestieros moved from another neighborhood in Carlisle five years ago when the opportunity arose to buy the older home. Theirs was the only offer to restore the home rather than tear it down.
Baliestiero, a real estate broker, described the tear-down phenomenon as, "A lot of the houses are 40 plus years old and often the land is worth more than the house. When a house is sold with the intention of its being torn down the seller does not have to comply with Title 5 septic system requirements. When you knock down the houses you can feather out the septic or move it to a more appropriate location."
Just a fact of life
Baliestiero chronicled the story of the four homes, which were torn down on Stearns Street. "Number 388 was bought by a builder with the plan to knock it down and build a new house. A Carlisle family came along and offered to buy the piece of land to build a house. Next, 414 had a failing septic system. The homeowner had to invest $30-40,000, just to sell that's a predicament. The builder would pay more than they could get if they repaired the system and then sold."
The homeowner and the estate sold the remaining two homes to the same builder. They both approached the builder directly. "A lot of people are upset that these are being torn down," commented Baliestiero, "people don't like to see change. It's not necessarily a problem just a fact of life."
DeLores Cook remarked that it "seemed to be a trend in Carlisle to put up bigger houses. Real big houses in our neighborhood are a little out of sync with the smaller homes. But it is a change we will get used to. I expect to have good new neighbors and I hope that they'll be as happy here as we have been."
Stearns Street is a very private neighborhood, according to Cook. She noted the change to her neighborhood and town. "I don't know as many people more young people. The population has doubled since we moved here. Time for me to make a move," she adds.
Despite knowing all his neighbors, Pliny Jewell describes the neighborhood as not being "a close community so to speak. We tend to keep to ourselves. Perfectly friendly, we just don't have close ties."
Building a home on a tear-down lot
Steve and Terry Golson of Sunset Road will be building a home on one of the tear-down lots. Terry stated, "We certainly don't want the neighborhood to change." Steve Golson described Stearns Street as "such a wonderful neighborhood the fact that people are out walking and that there is such a mixture of families young and old and really old houses, small houses and new houses." Terry Golson enjoys the "whole variety that you get from a stable neighborhood." She is pleased that one of their former neighbors from Sunset Road now lives in Malcolm Meadows so that they will be neighbors again.
When asked about the tear-downs and the building of larger homes, building inspector Bob Koning, commenting on Stearns Street had this to say, "I can't see that it is going to continue. The demand for new houses seems to be falling off because of the economy."
© 2002 The Carlisle Mosquito