Friday, November 7, 2003
Leaving in the past
The leaves we raked when I was a mere lad in Ohio were predominantly from buckeye, cottonwood, and black walnut trees. Through the years, my father, sisters, and I employed a number of raking techniques. Since our house was surrounded by woods, one was to rake a long linear pile from the driveway across the lawn to the woods. The line of leaves would snake back and forth depending on who was raking at which point along its length.
Later in the fall, when the quantity of leaves became too great to rake them all the way across the lawn in a line, my father would get out the giant yellowed painter's dropcloth I always assumed he had inherited from his father years before. We'd rake an area clear, spread the dropcloth, and then each walk back a dozen paces or so and rake towards the middle. The result was a several-foot-deep mound of leaves completely covering the cloth. We'd find the corners, lift, and shuffle the leaves to the center, often pausing to jump into the pile. I still remember my surprise that several feet of leaves didn't provide much of a cushion from the ground beneath if one jumped too high. Then there were the scratchy twigs and torn leaves that got into my flannel shirt. Eventually we'd get the dropcloth, bulging and heavy with leaves, folded over itself. Dragging all together, we'd maneuver it across the lawn and behind the outdoor fireplace to dump the load on the slope above the creek where years and years of leaves were decomposing.
Though raking leaves was officially a "chore," my recollection is that we didn't mind it in the least. I have that same feeling now, as leaf season in Carlisle is upon us. The leaves in our yard here are mostly from red, black and white oaks with some maples and birches and lots of white pine needles for texture. But it is no longer a regular family affair. We all get out together to rake maybe once every other fall, but I'm afraid it is mostly a chore for my family now. That's just the way it is. I still enjoy being outdoors raking; for me it's a direct connection to the natural rhythm of the seasons (still a palpable pleasure even five full years removed from New York City). And as keeper of the lawn (a concept beyond me in my youth), I even feel virtuous — I tell myself my vigorous raking is reducing thatch and even aerating the grass.
I don't fault those who choose not to do this chore themselves, hiring landscaping services to do their leaves for them. I just wish the services used rakes instead of the noisy, noxious, and I think inefficient, leaf blowers. I swear half the number of guys could do the job in half the time if they raked instead of blowing. I had high hopes when some middle school kids, including my own, distributed flyers last fall offering a raking service, but it didn't fly. With conflicting homework, lessons and sports schedules, they couldn't maintain a commitment to regularly rake the leaves for even one client.
So look for me as you drive by. I'll be the one raking on a beautiful fall day. I don't do any pile jumping anymore, and though I've inherited the yellowed painter's dropcloth, I now use a lightweight tarp made from some space age material. And thanks for letting me rake through the leaves of some old memories, finding a few still bright with the colors of fall.
What have we learned about 40B?
Now that Carlisle's Zoning Board of Appeals (BOA) has issued its first comprehensive development permit under the state's "anti-snob zoning act" (Mass. General Law Chapter 40B*) it's a good time for the town to review what has been learned. Selectmen have talked about holding a joint meeting of all boards and commissions, which would provide an excellent opportunity for town officials to share experiences on the 40B process and to consider improvements to the process before the next 40B application is filed. There are a number of tools used by other communities, which might also be useful in Carlisle.
Perhaps the most important tool is the free expert consultant available to help towns evaluate 40B developments. The Massachusetts Housing Partnership (MHP) awards grants of up to $10,000 per 40B application to pay for outside technical assistance. A consultant can help evaluate the application, educate the BOA on its options under the state regulations, and help the town negotiate with the developer. According to the web site www.mhpfund.com, by the end of last year, 76 towns had received this grant.
The Planning Board oversees most normal development, but for comprehensive permit projects the Zoning Board of Appeals must take on this unfamiliar role. Were planning and other boards able to effectively share expertise with the BOA? In some towns the selectmen have addressed this logistical problem by appointing an ad hoc 40B Committee. Such a committee may include representatives from the Planning Board, Conservation Commission, Board of Health, Police Department, Fire Department, DPW, and Housing Authority, as well as the full Board of Appeals. The 40B Committee hears and considers the comprehensive permit applications, and makes recommendations to the zoning board. Would this extra layer of structure be useful in Carlisle?
Another tool used by the town of Lincoln is a set of comprehensive permit rules drawn up by the BOA to be used in conjunction with the state's guidelines. The rules clarify the level of information to be provided for the design and siting of the buildings, utilities, roadways and drainage, and also include a list of requested exceptions to local codes and regulations. Would anything along these lines be helpful to us?
The state legislature is considering modifications to the 40B statute. Currently proposed legislation does not radically change 40B, but would include changes that might benefit suburban towns. It is unclear whether the bill will be passed before the legislative session ends this month.
Stay tuned for further developments.
*M.G.L 40B stipulates that in towns with less than 10% of the housing classified as "affordable," developers may bypass local zoning requirements when constructing a development, so long as the project contains at least 25% affordable housing.)
© 2003 The