Friday, March 21, 2003
Selectmen challenge Carlisle Woods affordable housing project
In a potential harbinger of developments to come, the Carlisle Board of Selectmen reviewed an application already submitted to the state for an affordable housing development that would require significant deviations from local zoning standards. Given the limited information available to the selectmen, the many questions, and the limited time for review, the board responded with a decided lack of enthusiasm.
Communities like Carlisle that haven't met the state-mandated goal of 10% affordable housing are subject to the so-called Chapter 40B law, which allows developers to bypass local zoning regulations if at least 25% of the new housing is affordable.
Walt Eriksen, president of Applewood Construction Corporation, presented the conceptual plans for Carlisle Woods that were included in his 40B affordable housing application submitted to the state. The initial plans call for a three-building complex on three "land-locked" lots totaling 4.37 acres off Maple Street, with access via an easement to Estes Road in Billerica. There will be four 1,500- to 2,400-square-foot two-bedroom units per building. One quarter of the units would be affordable, with a sales price of $165,000 to $175,000 per unit. The remaining units would be sold at market rates, estimated between $350,000 and $550,000 each.
On the important issue of legal access to a street, attorney James Harrington spoke on behalf of the developers. Harrington acknowledged that if Carlisle Woods were not a 40B affordable housing application, access would be an "issue" for the "regular planning board." However, he asserted that a 40B application allows the board of appeals to override local rules. He further stated that if the board of appeals does not override local zoning rules, the state can override local ordinances. More importantly, Harrington stated that case law dating back to the mid-1800s supports the right of an abutter who has an easement to use and make improvements necessary for use of the road. Consequently, Harrington said he believes that access will not be a "deal breaker."
Selectman Vivian Chaput, who served on the Carlisle Planning Board for 17 years, challenged Harrington on public access. She recalled that these lots were reviewed in 1981, 1995, and 1975. In each case, the board found that the lots did not meet frontage requirements. Furthermore, after reviewing records on these parcels, Chaput stated that the easement road is "a paper street only" and there is no legal access for these lots to a street. Consequently, these lots are "land locked" and not buildable.
Selectman Carol Peters was concerned about the density of the development and its corresponding impact on water requirements. Town water-use standards suggest that there should only be 16 or 17 bedrooms on the three lots. Instead, the development proposes 24 bedrooms. Several selectmen indicated that protecting water resources is important before they could support the development. Eriksen indicated that modern septic technology approaches are significantly more efficient and he is confident that the development will gain Title V approval. Chaput was skeptical of the technology and concerned that there would be no options for replacement if the technology failed after the development was completed and the developers were gone.
Selectman John Ballantine raised a number of other concerns. He asked how the footprint of the development would impact the buffer zones, drainage, and neighbors. He also wanted to ensure that restrictions would be in place so that the affordable units remained affordable in the event of a sale. A properly funded and operating homeowners' association would also be necessary, said Ballantine. Noting that there would be significant legal costs to Carlisle associated with this application, Ballantine asked if the developer would set aside funds to cover these costs. Eriksen responded that he would not give the town a blank check to hire engineers to scuttle the plan, but he would work with the town to be reasonable.
Several additional concerns were raised when the discussion was opened to public comment. Ed Rolf of Maple Street indicated that the access road may be located in both Carlisle and Billerica. Noting that the lots could only be accessed from Billerica, a resident of Billerica noted that "something seems wrong" when you have to leave Carlisle to service Carlisle. Bob Higgins challenged the road width standard that would be used. He also got the developer to state on the record that a well draw-down hydro test would be performed.
Little time for response
Several of the selectmen indicated that they were disappointed the developers did not pursue a dialogue with the board prior to filing the 40B application with the state. Because the application had already been submitted before the developers came before the selectmen, the board only has a few days to seek legal counsel and respond in a formal letter to the state. Consequently, selectmen chair Doug Stevenson indicated that the board would not be able to be supportive of the development in its letter to the State. Eriksen responded that he viewed the presentation as the initial dialogue and he wanted his application to be "friendly."
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