Friday, July 19, 2002
Where, oh where is the Carlisle Town Forest?
An attempt to piece together an accurate history of the Carlisle Town Forest and determine whether any part thereof may be legally available for municipal development remains solidly in limbo. The complexities of the situation blocked even a modest step forward at last Thursday's conservation commission meeting.
Questions about the status of the town-owned forest first arose last year when the Carlisle Housing Authority (CHA) proposed use of a portion of the approximately 70-acre property for affordable housing and suggested that other portions might be suitable for school facilities, athletic fields and such. To their dismay, preliminary research indicated that 46 acres of the total tract had been officially designated as Town Forest by action of the 1923 Town Meeting and as such clearly fell under the provisions of Article 97 of the state constitution, making it almost impossible to use that acreage for purposes other than conservation and passive recreation. Since a substantial part of the forest consists of wetlands, the multi-million-dollar question then became, "Which 46 out of the 70 plus/minus acres are we talking about?"
The selectmen turned to a time-honored executive solution and appointed a committee to identify the boundaries of the parcel and make recommendations as to its possible future use. In pursuit of that charge the Town Forest study committee reported to the selectmen on June 25 that member Beverly Humm had completed an exhaustive study of pertinent documents, including Town Meeting minutes, mortgage discharges, assessors records, etc., going back to 1842. Consultation with Roger Corbin of BSC Engineering had established that these materials, together with working drawings in that company's files could be used to produce an accurate map of at least the perimeter of the Forest. Therefore, the committee requested $1,300 for the production of such a map. Expressing support for the request, the selectmen voted to ask the Carlisle Conservation Commission (ConsCom) to allocate $1,300 from the conservation fund for that purpose.
Study committee members Jane Anderson and Humm, accompanied by selectman John Ballantine, attended the commission's July 11 meeting to present the formal request. Thanking Humm for her exacting search through town and county files, Anderson explained the difficulty of identifying the elusive 46 acres, since no relevant deeds existed and the discussions at Town Meeting refer to such landmarks as "the north woodlot" and "the old pasture," features obviously well known to townsfolk of 1923. Anderson also described a 1937 aerial map depicting roughly the dimensions of the present 70-acre forest and showing houses and a brook.
Commissioner Tom Brownrigg, ConsCom's representative on the study committee, supported the desirability of an accurate delineation of the outer perimeter, but admitted that the boundaries of the 46 acres in the interior would still remain a mystery. However, he noted that it would be "interesting" if the outer boundary turned out to contain 71 acres, since the records include references to three undefined parcels of land, the acreage of which adds up to 71 acres.
Commissioner Roy Watson interjected a contention he had first expressed when the study committee was proposed. He had reported on an informal conversation with personnel of the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, who had informed him that identifying the 46 acres didn't matter because the entire property fell under the provisions of Article 97. Noting that, "We have just gone through a brutal process at Town Meeting trying to find pennies to balance the budget," he wanted to know why the selectmen now proposed to spend funds in search of the elusive 46. "Did the town add anything to the 46 officially after the date of the acceptance of Article 97 by the state?" he asked.
Ballantine explained that this was just a first step toward trying to identify the original 46 acres. Once that was accomplished, they could talk about the remainder.
That exchange brought a question from chair Chris Kavalauskas, who asked "How are you going to identify the 46 acres within the approximately 70-acre boundary?" Member Peter Burn followed with the query, "Why do you need to determine the perimeter in order to proceed?" The commissioners' questions brought support from audience member Vincent Cattacchio of Old East Street, "You know the 70-acre boundary already. Getting it a little more exact will not find the mythical 46 acres."
For a second time Ballantine stressed that nailing down the outer boundary was just a first step that might help in eventually identifying the critical 46 acres. "Once we find that [the 46], then we take the next step, he declared.
Abutter Ed Humm noted that records showed trees were planted on the portion understood to be the Town Forest following the 1923 vote. "Certainly those were planted in the best [upland] portion. The other part, about 23 acres is wetland," he surmised.
Terming the whole matter "a quagmire" commissioner John Lee said he couldn't see that spending the requested money was going to solve anything, "I can't understand what the $1,300 is going to buy us," he concluded.
With the discussion obviously getting nowhere, chair Kavalauskas voiced a new and basic question. "Is this [the $1,300] a legal use for money from the conservation fund.?" Putting first things first, she called for a definitive answer from town counsel as to whether or not conservation fund money could be spent for the purpose requested.
With all members concurring, the commission closed the session by framing a formal request to submit to town counsel.
© 2002 The Carlisle Mosquito