The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, June 27, 2003


What do a 150-unit senior-living apartment development, cell towers and a coffee house/pub have in common? They are three of the most compelling solutions suggested by participants at the June 17 economic development focus group conducted by the Carlisle Planning Board and the Community Development Plan Steering Committee. Solutions to what, you ask? Solutions to Carlisle's economic development needs and wants.

The Community Development Plan Steering Committee was formed by the Planning Board to create a Community Development Plan (CD Plan), the first stage in developing a comprehensive long-range plan for Carlisle. Economic development is a required element of Carlisle's CD Plan, which the state has indicated needs more work.

Fourteen Carlisle residents, with different backgrounds and experiences, were invited to participate in the focus group, with additional residents attending as audience.

Defining Carlisle's economic development needs

For many residents Carlisle is ideal as it is. It is a small town with plenty of open space; the school system is one of the finest in the Commonwealth; town services adequately meet their needs. Carlisle is conveniently located near to the cultural and business centers in the greater Boston area. The median income per household is approximately $130,000 (based on the 2002 census), so why do we need economic development, you might ask · and you would not be alone in asking that question.

According to Carol Thomas of Thomas Planning Services, Inc., one of two consultants hired by the Planning Board to assist with the CD Plan, in the town-wide questionnaire survey and at the Community Planning Day in March, residents indicated that they wanted the town "to be just like it is." Furthermore, when directly questioned on economic development issues, there was "not much interest."

When presenting the results of specific concepts tested, Thomas stated that the survey indicated there was clear agreement that Carlisle should not have more stores and franchisees in town. While there were some who wanted a grocery or a bank in town, these individuals were in the minority. On the issue of a gas station, only 50% of residents indicated interest. In fact, Thomas said, the only development concept to garner support from a majority of survey respondents was "a gathering place." Such a coffeehouse or pub was defined as a social want, not an economic need.

Are there economic needs? It depends. Ezra Glenn of McGregor & Associates, P.C., the other consultant engaged by the Planning Board, stated, "The economic development section of community development plans usually addresses town revenues, job creation, and services required by the town. Job creation is clearly not a issue for Carlisle, and it appears that there are not significant services required." Given the widely held perception that property taxes have risen significantly in recent years, the focus group turned its attention to the issue of raising non-tax revenues.

Cell towers, other revenue enhancers

Richard Sibley, who owns a PC help business, began the discussion by focusing on cell towers. "I don't want cell towersbut the town needs them. People can't do work without them. And, given that it is a fact of life that they are coming, it would be a missed opportunity for revenues if they are not put on town land." Larry Bearfield, chairman of the Carlisle Committee for Tax Fairness and a member of Carlisle's Revenue Enhancement Committee, agreed, "My experience with the Boy Scouts indicates that there is a ton of money to be realized by placing the towers on town land."

Lisa Jensen-Fellows, chair of the Finance Committee and co-chair of the Revenue Enhancement Committee, set out a guiding principle that was generally supported by the focus group participants. "Where possible, development should be a public/private partnership. This ensures that whatever is developed, the town gets a piece of the action." Selectman Vivian Chaput warned that these partnerships are not easy to do, "The State gets in the way. We will need administrative mechanisms to carry out these plans."

A number of other economic development ideas were suggested. Mary Ann Kitrosser, a 30-year resident and current chair of the Historical Commission, suggested, "we should bring economically friendly businesses, such as software developers, to town." Ray Offenheiser, head of OxFam and a former New York City planner, suggested the town pursue developments that combined small office space (occupied, for example, by physicians) with affordable housing. "The town's economic development plan is 'by default.' If it [development] is not managed, developers will determine it." Bearfield presented a number of ideas that the Revenue Enhancement Committee has been developing, including a town-owned electric distribution company and a joint use facility (such as a hockey rink) that has revenue-raising potential, as part of the school expansion plan.

Flip tax?

Selectman John Ballantine warned that "creating a public good, such as a school, drives up real estate values and, hence, property taxes. The town needs to benefit from increasing the public good. Either we need to encourage growth to help fill up and pay for the school, or we need a 'flip tax' to charge for that public good." A flip tax is a tax that is paid whenever a property, new or existing, is sold. It is usually a fee based on a percentage of the property value. Other towns have flip taxes in the range of 2%. For a house sale valued at $500,000, a 2% flip tax would be $10,000. Given the 75 house transactions that Carlisle has averaged in the past few years, this would provide $750,000 in incremental annual revenues.

Critiquing the ideas

There were two major challenges raised to all these ideas. First, "there is resistance from town residents to every development due to the NIMBY ("Not In My Back Yard") sentiment," stated Carlisle resident Rick Blum. "How do we get past that?" Second, none of these ideas will generate significant revenues. It will take $100 million to address the State's 40B affordable housing requirement, which requires that 10% of the town's housing stock be affordable. If a town does not meet that mandate, developers can ignore local zoning guidelines and build high-density housing as long as 25% of the development is affordable housing.

40B senior-living complex?

Developer and resident Doug Edwards stated, "If Carlisle wanted to work with a 40B project in a cooperative way, it could be done. A private developer would build a complex, and the town would own the facility. This way the town would get annual revenues from the complex. If the units built were rentals, then 100% of the units would count towards the affordable housing stock. The complex would have to have about 150 units in order to meet the 10% 40B housing stock requirement." Others added to this idea by stating that if the units were reserved for seniors, there would be little incremental strain on the town's infrastructure (e.g., schools). If the right location were found, it might even contribute to the building of a town waste water treatment facility. Furthermore, a senior facility would provide residents who grew up in the town with a way to remain in the town even if they could no longer afford to pay the rising property taxes.

John Lee concluded the discussion by reminding the group that "people move here because of what we have. People aren't bailing out, and more are moving in every year. For what you get, Carlisle is a good deal." The challenge for the Planning Board is to ensure that Carlisle stays a good deal. This means creating a Community Development Plan that preserves the 'public good' and town character, "smart-manages" specific issues (such as cell towers and 40B developments) that are being forced on Carlisle, and builds a town-wide consensus that accepts necessary and appropriate change.

2003 The Carlisle Mosquito