Friday, May 2, 2003
Can we afford affordable housing?
In the past decade Carlisle citizens have turned down affordable housing developments under the so-called Chapter 40B, for the same reasons that they have opposed all other housing developments in town. Collectively we are concerned that the higher density 40B housing will increase taxes, population, traffic, and the need for schools and services, and will destroy open space, wildlife habitats and the rural feel of the town. Individually, as homeowners, we are concerned about loss of privacy and quiet, effects on groundwater quality and quantity, and loss of real estate value.
In addition, there are few positive incentives to meeting the affordable housing goal besides getting the state off our backs before they approve some ghastly 100-unit development. While many, in principle, support affordable housing for town residents who are downsizing and those who serve the town, such as police or teachers, in fact the town has limited power to give preference to those with a Carlisle connection.
Given the long list of negatives and the lack of positive incentives, it's not surprising, that after 30 years Carlisle has not built a single 40B housing unit (except for the senior housing on Church Street). Recently the biggest issue has been the cost. As the price of land skyrocketed in the 1990s, affordable housing became progressively less affordable for the town. Private builders found that million-dollar homes could justify the price of the land and bring in far larger profits than 40B developments.
Recently, the economics of real estate development have changed. With slowing sales of high-end homes, the 40B development has become more financially attractive. In fact, two applications for a comprehensive permit are currently before town boards. The possibility exists that any four-acre or larger lot that comes on the market could be a candidate for a new 40B development. According to Housing Authority member Jack Bromley, there are 429 homes on four-acre lots in town, and 41 greater than ten acres. There is also undeveloped land. Extrapolating the possibilities can be frightening.
However, the builder-sponsored 40B development can also be viewed as an opportunity for the town to acquire affordable units without paying for their construction. A proposed development on a four-acre lot on Lowell Street (called Laurel Hollow by the developer) calls for the construction of four buildings with two units each. Two of the eight units will be affordable. Prior to filing a comprehensive permit application, developer Michael Kenney consulted a number of town boards and revised his plans based on their recommendations, including decreasing the number of units from the originally proposed 16. Housing density in the current plan is the equivalent of one-acre zoning.
This route to increasing affordable housing in Carlisle may be more acceptable than the costly town-built "cluster" of five to fifteen affordable units proposed in the 2001 Housing Authority's plan for Carlisle. A well-sited, small development may be easier to integrate into a conventional single-family house neighborhood. Interspersing affordable units among market rate units avoids the concern about creating a low-income island in a sea of affluent homes. In addition, since affordable units usually have deed restrictions that limit resale profits, the incentive to maintain and improve the buildings is limited. A mixed housing condominium may fare much better. Hopefully, while Carlisle may still be below the target for affordable housing, the state may judge the approval of a development like Laurel Hollow to be a good-faith effort and may be less likely to override any future denial of an unacceptable comprehensive permit.
It is in the town's best interest to approve the Lowell Street comprehensive permit, provided the applicants satisfy town boards, especially on questions of water and sewage. This will send a message that Carlisle is willing to work with cooperative builders on small medium-density developments, and set Carlisle on a new course toward 40B redemption.
I miss her already.
My 18-year-old daughter will be heading off to college in the fall. My friend Marti's daughter left home for college two years ago. When Marti's daughter was a senior in high school, Marti spent the entire year in a rare, emotional state. She would cry uncontrollably at little moments. Now Marti is a woman who has battled a lot of things in her life (breast cancer, death of a parent at a young age) and she has always amazed me by consistently keeping her emotions pretty much in check. I could hardly imagine her crying at the thought of her child leaving home. Until now.
I don't pretend to be an emotional rock. In fact, I am quite the opposite. Certain commercials have even brought tears to my eyes. Have you seen the one, I think it's a Verizon ad, that has a son heading off to school, and his parents are flashing back to him at various stages in his life; jumping to reach the pay phone in his Halloween costume, posing in his football uniform, hugging his mom as a teenager? It ends with him as a newborn baby. I am reminded of my own children growing up. I cry every time I see it.
What I've noticed is that, as my children grow older, the years seem to fly by faster. I too remember the baby stage, the nursery school stage, and every year that each of my daughters spent at the Carlisle Public Schools. I remember them finger-painting the rainforest in kindergarten, the "Special Person" week in first grade, reading milestones, class plays, projects, field trips to Lowell and Boston, the Spaghetti Supper, seventh-grade play and eighth-grade graduation. And it doesn't help that my youngest is graduating from the Carlisle Public Schools this year as well. Can you really blame me for being such a wreck?
Another thing that might have me anxious is the state of the world today. War is scary, and has far-reaching effects. Parents want to protect their children, and sometimes, bad things happen. Our children have witnessed the effects of random terror attacks and shootings; talk about frightening. So preparing them for things they might face is hard. I don't want to scare them, but I want them to always think and be safe. And maybe a little lucky too.
We have so many discussions with our children as they grow, and we can just hope, by the time they are 18, that some of the important things are ingrained in them.
In the meantime, it's important to take the time to appreciate each little step children make. Cheer them on in their band and choral concerts, at Girl and Boy Scout events, games and the myriad of school presentations. Enjoy every step of the way.
When my oldest daughter was a baby, my father-in-law often commented to me that "pretty soon she'll be going off to college." I used to think he was crazy, but now I understand. I really do.
I miss her already.
© 2003 The Carlisle Mosquito