Friday, March 28, 2003
The same, but better Different views of the future emerge on planning day
Eighty-five people gathered at the school cafeteria on Saturday morning, March 22, to participate in a community forum, part of the planning board's effort to update Carlisle's master plan for zoning, development and transportation. The three-hour meeting was hosted jointly by the planning board and the local League of Women Voters and led by Ezra Glenn and Carol Thomas, consultants hired with grant money from the state. A steering committee of the planning board will work with the consultants to tabulate the results of a town-wide survey, host public forums and focus groups, and draft a proposal for a new master plan in the coming months. A second public meeting is planned for May. The new plan should be ready to be presented at the 2004 Town Meeting.
The first step in the planning overhaul process was a questionnaire distributed three weeks ago, which asked residents to name the issues of importance facing the town, now and in the years to come. Specifically, respondents were asked whether residential development should be limited or restricted, how to use or conserve open space, if business development should be encouraged, and whether town services should be increased. Residents were also asked to describe their vision of what Carlisle should look and feel like in ten years, and what aspects should either be maintained or changed.
Using the survey as a blueprint, Glenn opened the meeting by asking residents to list what they like, and then what they dislike, about Carlisle. Participants, ranging in age from 10 to 75 and in residency from less than a year to over 30 years, responded with strikingly similar opinions. There was a chorus of praise for the town's rural and agricultural setting, as well as its volunteerism and close-knit community. Also popular were the quality of the schools, safety, wildlife and the "absence of strip-mall culture." Similarly, there was a good deal of consensus when the discussion turned to what people dislike about Carlisle. Many people expressed their dislike of smaller homes being razed and replaced with very large and expensive homes. Several people lamented the lack of public gathering places, be they town-owned recreational facilities like a pool or a park, or privately-owned businesses like a coffee shop or a pub. The hazards of walking or cycling on town roads, increasing tax rates, chemical lawns, very little ethnic, cultural, or economic diversity, encroachments on the right to own farm animals, and the lack of affordable housing were also put forth as criticisms of Carlisle as it is today.
Threads of complications and contradictions also began to expose themselves. For some, million-dollar homes are an affront to the environment, consuming an unreasonable amount of energy and natural resources and polluting the ground water with chemical lawn fertilizers.
"There's a lack of awareness about how our town connects to the larger world, whether development is sustainable over the long term. We have sort of an island mentality," said one resident.
The very same issue can raise quite different concerns. For many, when a developer buys a three-bedroom cape in order to tear it down and build a 4,000 square-foot luxury home, it represents high-end gentrification and the forcing out of long-time residents, especially senior citizens.
"There seems to be a polarization issue between people who have been here a long time and newcomers. I feel there's been a degradation of the spirit of community," said a resident who's been in town over thirty years and happened to be the oldest participant in the forum. He also expressed regret for what he described as "me-ism," people advocating for their individual interests, with little regard for the common good.
Another resident, a mother of small children, proposed that two-acre zoning works against a sense of community, fostering the development of large, isolated housing units where people can spend days or weeks without any contact with their neighbors. She described this type of neighborhood as "Lonelyville," and said Carlisle sometimes feels like just that.
Overall, residential development seemed to rule the day, with people addressing the issue from many different angles and with varying insights and ideas. There was wide support for the idea of Carlisle developing affordable housing units on its own, in order to both maximize the number and the aesthetic of the units, and also to protect against Chapter 40B proposals, in which private businesses aim to make a profit on the developments and may show little or no regard for local zoning bylaws.
One resident summed up the inherent contradiction, or paradox, facing Carlisle. He said, "The problem is, we have a no-growth vision in a high-growth area. We have this agrarian romanticism, but we're in an urban area, and it holds us back from making workable development plans."
Most participants seemed very proud and fiercely protective of the Town's bucolic, small-town character and its high-performing school. They want to put the brakes on endlessly increasing tax bills and the gradual transformation of Carlisle from a rural, close-knit oasis. How and where to apply those brakes will likely be at the heart of the master planning discussions in the coming months.
© 2003 The