Friday, January 31, 2003
Brainstorming Greenough Farm rehab options
A group of enthusiastic supporters of the 242-acre Greenough conservation land turned out for the conservation commission's January 23 meeting. The agenda promised renewed consideration of a long-term plan for preservation and productive usage of the buildings and agricultural fields adjacent to Greenough Pond, off Maple Street. However, the commission is faced with a legal and financial morass when it comes to achieving their objectives.
A picture postcard in disrepair
Recent site walks confirm that the small caretaker's abode is in deplorable condition. Its current resident, Paul Booth, makes limited repairs, and is an effective presence for discouraging vandalism, but is not prepared to undertake large scale renovation without a long-term contract. The picture-postcard barn is in excellent condition, but should have regular maintenance. Remodeling of the house for family living would be expensive, since it requires de-leading and asbestos removal as well as major rehabilitation. As former commissioner Steve Hinton pointed out, demolition would also be costly, and security would become an immediate problem with no resident overseer.
Limited access to property
Added to the farmhouse dilemma is the inconvenience of limited access. The road from Maple Street crosses private property with a town easement that admits official vehicles for maintenance and security purposes only, plus pedestrian passage for residents of the house. A second access road traverses land in Billerica that belongs to the private Carlisle Conservation Foundation. Thus regular vehicular rights would have to be negotiated before initiating expanded use of the buildings and four-acre agricultural areas.
The commission has floated two unsuccessful Requests for Proposals (RFPs) within the last four years, offering five-year renewable leases that called for in-kind restorative work on the house, leasing of the barn and four-acre agricultural fields or both. In spite of numerous expressions of interest prior to issuance of the RFP, there were no acceptable bids received within the established time frame. Nonetheless, conservation administrator Sylvia Willard noted that she has had 11 individual indications of interest in the properties from nature organizations, farmers and "people who want to fix the house up and live in it because it is such a beautiful spot."
Were the town to consider remodeling the house and/or barn for affordable housing or other rental arrangement, it could not accept any contributions for the project, as the Greenough tract was purchased with substantial federal funding.
When chair Chris Kavalauskas opened the meeting for audience participation, planning board member Louise Hara suggested turning the buildings over to a non-profit organization that might legally accept funds. This led CCF president Art Milliken to envision the possibility of a multi-town "Middlesex Nature Center" that could use CCF's Billerica road for access.
Hara broke the news that the planning board has received a $30,000 grant under the state's Executive Order 418, which made planning funds available to any town that agreed to work on visionary planning covering four major tasks: housing analysis, transportation, economic development or land resource protection and allocation. The process will include town-wide brainstorming as an important feature. It was her suggestion that ConsCom participate in that search for creative ideas that they could put to use.
Maple Street resident Kathleen Coyle asked if Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds could be drawn on. Commissioner John Lee, who is the commission's representative on the CPA committee, said that group is anxious to reserve that source for acquisition of land for affordable housing.
At this point the Hara idea machine went into high gear: "Why couldn't we use the Habitat for Humanity approach, where the town could supply or receive donations for building materials, while volunteers from the town do the work?" The burst of creative thinking continued as Lee brought up the possibility of working with the Minuteman Technical School, which has completed a number of community building projects as part of their curriculum. The show of community enthusiasm carried on as abutter Harvey Nosowitz and commissioner Peter Burn volunteered to join former commissioners David Whalley and Carolyn Kiely on a seven-member subcommittee which would seek three additional volunteers from the community at large, while Hara and commissioners Tricia Smith and Roy Watson agreed to serve as "adjunct members" with specialized expertise. Administrator Willard said she would be happy to talk with other willing candidates.
See related press release on page 16
© 2003 The Carlisle Mosquito