Friday, September 13, 2002
Dairy entrepreneur joins ConsCom
Interviewing the latest appointee to the Carlisle Conservation Commission (ConsCom) did not appear to be a hazardous assignment for a member of the local press. The scene was not Afghanistan or Mexico City; it was the shady side yard of the newest addition to the commission, former member and active veteran of other town bodies, Tricia Smith. But browsing under the tall pines as I began the interview was a long-eared, soft-eyed and disarmingly rotund thief.
The interview was progressing according to protocol, when I suddenly felt the first page of my precious notes whisked out of my hand and carried trophy-like in the mouth of "The Queen" of the Smith-Holland goat herd, a dignified nanny named Ada. Learning from Momma, the even more innocent-looking daughter Zoe made a lightning pass at the notebook from behind, leaving a ragged hole gracing the middle of page two. After the remnants of page one had been retrieved from Ada's active jaws, the interview proceeded in a decidedly lighter mood. I will return later to Smith's challenging goats, but must first cover the business at hand.
Return to familiar ground
The board of selectmen had announced Smith's appointment on Tuesday evening, after receiving a unanimous recommendation from ConsCom in which they emphasized her five years of prior experience on the board and welcomed her expertise in the areas of environmental engineering, hydrology and storm water management. Her resume shows eight years of consulting work in civil engineering and site design, focusing on technology-based methodologies for architectural/engineering/construction firms and ending in a decision to join a 200-person firm in the year 2000.
Because Smith's formal application indicated a desire "to see the commission working in tandem with the planning board to guide multiple-lot developments," I asked her to elaborate on her thinking and indicate whether it might parallel a proposal outlined by Kate Reid and Louise Hara at a town-wide planning session a couple of years ago. The planning board members had suggested changes to the cluster zoning bylaw that would call for members of all concerned boards to sit down with a subdivision applicant at the start of the proposal process. This "discovery phase" would reveal which features of the site the town might want to preserve, such as wetland, views, wildlife habitat or a stately stand of trees, and then draw in the homes in the locations deemed best for both construction and aesthetics. All this would occur before the engineers and landscapers were brought in.
Smith said she would favor any process that encouraged looking at a parcel as a whole to come up with a plan that met the priorities and interests of the various parties. But she added a caveat. "I would not want to inaugurate a process that involved such a complicated or lengthy approach that the developers would decide to go the state's 40-B route in order to evade local bottlenecks." She suggested holding working meetings between the boards early in the permitting cycle to determine what issues each might have and report them back to the developer while his plans retained some flexibility. In any event, she would like to get together with the planning board on a fairly regular basis, and perhaps work on changes in the rules, regulations and even town bylaws to make them more consistent and effective.
The reference to town bylaw led me to ask how Smith's ideas might tie in with ConsCom's near-miss on bylaw revisions at the 2001 Town Meeting, which would have afforded greater protection to vulnerable wetland resources. Smith indicated support for the objectives but felt that any new rules should apply to new-lot construction only. As a start, she indicated she envisioned a possible common approach with planning board colleagues, "one that would specify a minimum amount of upland area that would be required for a lot to be considered buildable." She said that approach has been used successfully in several neighboring towns and might provide a workable compromise.
Smith soon turned the conversation to what she sees as a "worrying problem" for the commission, specifically the number of present owners, many of whom have moved here since passage of the Massachusetts Wetland Protection Act, who live next to resource areas and perform non-permitted maintenance, often for understandable reasons. These people, along with too many long-term residents, often fail to realize the values and requirements of the land they live on and its importance to the community as a whole. "This is a tough situation that the commission faces on a regular basis," she declared, but a satisfactory approach seems elusive.
The question of land use change
A final question that involves the growing tension between conservation values and other community priorities was probably the most difficult for an individual who has also served on both the town's water quality committee and its building committee to answer, namely: "What would your approach be to recurring attempts by other dedicated town bodies to get ConsCom approval for 'change of use' on all or a portion of an existing conservation parcel?" Pausing for a long time before she spoke, Smith answered, "Right now, I can't imagine a situation where I would agree to take land out of conservation. Once you decide to conserve, it's a long-term, even a perpetual, commitment. The least destructive change, that from passive to active recreation, requires not just land alteration, but also parking lots and small structures. The need would have to be incredibly persuasive for me to reconsider."
It was with mutual agreement that we then turned our attention from town affairs to the admittedly charming four-legged kleptomaniacs that have absorbed much of Smith's time since her resignation from her position as principal and director of technology with Symmes, Maini and McKee, and embarked on "a total change of direction." She decided to pursue farmstead cheese-making with the small herd of dairy goats that she and her husband Michael Holland have nurtured over the past two years. She is already into the complicated process of becoming a "licensed cheese-maker" and turning the basement area into a "micro-cheese plant" that meets strict state requirements. Said Smith, "It's been a humbling experience to be on the other end of a governmental permitting process. It has helped me realize how intimidating it can be to a lay person."
The goat cheese entrepreneur is keeping scrupulous records of each step in her experiment in micro-cheese dairying in hopes it will benefit others who would like to follow in her footsteps. "Having milking animals is a great family activity. I've always been impressed by the dedication and sense of responsibility among 4-H youngsters," she explained.
Smith admits that having even a micro-dairy is demanding 365 days a year, but she tells her friends, "Milking is much like commuting it's there and you do it, only you do it seven days a week instead of five."
© 2002 The Carlisle Mosquito