The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, August 2, 2002



In the zone

This might be a good time to look at the history of Carlisle's zoning bylaws, as the town faces its first subdivision to be built under a Massachusetts 40B comprehensive permit (see Builder proposes eight houses, some affordable, on four-acre lot, page 1 of the July 19 issue of the Mosquito.)

Carlisle's large lot size protects water resources, important in a town served by private wells and septic systems. A side effect of the current high cost of building lots is that most new construction is limited to large, premium housing. To mitigate the state-wide shortage of affordable housing, comprehensive permits were created to encourage developers to include low-cost housing in new subdivisions, in exchange for allowing housing density to exceed local limits.

Carlisle's zoning bylaws were first created in 1933, when separate residential, business and industrial zones were defined. In 1955 the town was "growing rapidly and will probably continue to grow even more rapidly," according to page 33 of the town's Annual Report. To manage the growth, the town established two-acre zoning in 1956, and hired a planning consultant.

In this anniversary issue celebrating the first 30 years of the Mosquito, it seems especially appropriate to include the following comments on Carlisle's zoning, reprinted from the January 18, 1985 issue of the Mosquito:

Our debt to Carlisle's zoning pioneers

I often marvel at the set of past events that has allowed Carlisle to develop into the unique town that it is. It seems that every new resident echoes the same appreciative sentiment, that the town is different from any other place in which he has lived. This difference is perceived in many ways, but a common theme is the sense of "community and oneness," the spirit of volunteerism and neighborhood concern and, of course, Carlisle's highly appealing physical appearance.

It is my belief that the major factor responsible for these characteristics is Carlisle's early implementation of zoning, which not only insured orderly development but instilled an attitude of preservation and pride in its citizens. No other single event has been more important to the character of the town than the approval of one-acre zoning at the annual Town Meeting of 1933.

I often reflect with admiration on the fact that in 1933 a rural farming community of 600-plus residents had the necessary leadership and foresight to support the radical new idea of zoning. According to Ruth Wilkins (now Ruth Wilkins Hollis), in her book Carlisle, Its History and Heritage, zoning was a relatively new concept which had been approved in very few towns in the area. In our vicinity only Lincoln and Lexington had seen fit to pass a zoning bylaw and in these cases the required minimum building lot was less than one-quarter acre. Yet rural Carlisle passed one-acre zoning. Imagine how radical that concept must have been to many of the independent­minded residents of this town who undoubtedly felt they were giving away a portion of their inherent rights to develop their land as they saw fit. Apparently the idea of one-acre zoning was so novel that letters were received from as far away as California asking for details.

All of us who now benefit should know that this first zoning bylaw came into being through the direct efforts of James H. Wilkins and Dr. Laurence Lunt, two ardent supporters of the town. The Warrant article they proposed passed Town Meeting by 108 to 52, barely the two-thirds required. By this action, however, the course of future town development and the long-term attitude of its citizens were profoundly changed. Carlisle continues to be fortunate to have available the level of dedication and leadership exemplified by these two men. This is leadership which can be counted on to do what is perceived to be right for the town without political motivation. It is this spirit which new residents recognize immediately when they come here. I believe Mr. Wilkins and Dr. Lunt, who exerted such a tremendous influence 52 years ago, would continue to be proud.

Letters from camp

In a feat of logistic precision, not to mention a fair amount of salesmanship and arm-twisting, my husband and I managed to ship all three of our children off to summer camp for two weeks at the same time. Although we teased the girls mercilessly about how much fun we would have without them, the truth is that we spent most of the first empty nest evening, and many following, writing letters to our dearly missed campers. Then we waited for the letters back.

Our oldest daughter had been to camp last summer and had thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Thus, it came as no surprise that the first of her two letters home painted a reassuring picture of camp life. Some of the rituals described, like taking on a new camp name and joining a polar bear swim club, seemed to embody what a parent sends a child to camp for ­ to stretch and try out a new identity in an unusual but safe setting. Other rituals she embraced, like smashing her face into her birthday cake, seemed more marginally enriching. Two letters in two weeks seemed just about right.

At age nine, our youngest daughter was maybe a little too young for a two-week sleep-away camp adventure, but she was at Wabasso with her teenage sister who we thought would provide a degree of comfort in the event of an emergency. From our youngest daughter, we heard zip. I began to wonder whether my husband had dropped her off at the right place. Nor did our teenager's two letters mention her sister's continued existence on this planet. The explanation for dead silence became abundantly clear, however, when she returned home. She had lost her pencil.

The flood of letters arrived from our middle daughter, and they broke our hearts. Homesick is too weak a word to describe her litany of trials. Her bed squeaked, the showers were frigid, her stomach was empty and the counselors were much too optimistic. She peppered her letters with guilt-inducing rhetorical questions. On the quality of the food: "You know how you get a headache when you become dehydrated? Well, don't you die when you don't have enough food?" On swimming lessons: "Mommy, you're a lawyer, so I have a question for you. Is there any kind of punishment for someone if they force you to do something you don't want to do, thus taking away your free will and violating your public rights?" On celebrating her birthday at camp: "Do you remember what tomorrow is? My favorite present would be a one way ticket home!!!" What's a parent to do when letters are signed, "your daughter, whose inside homesick tears would cause torrents."

What we did, with a no-visit, no-phone-call camp policy, was to write more letters. We hoped our stories of how we each had suffered and conquered homesickness at one time or another would console her. My husband even lit a candle at church. But as I fretted, it struck me that this was all about connection. Each of our daughters was dealing with the lack of physical connection to familiar people and places in her own way. As it turned out, each succeeded. (The tide turned for my middle daughter with a surprise birthday party in her honor.) Still tied to a string they could tug back on from a distance, they wove a separate web of emotional connections. In doing so, I felt they grew a little farther from us, a little closer to the outside world. How wide-reaching and intertwined are the ties that bind.


2002 The Carlisle Mosquito