Friday, January 23, 2004
CPA Committee reviews Benfield Land option
A capacity crowd filled the Heald Room at Town Hall on January 14 when the Community Preservation Act Committee (CPC) met to discuss the process of purchasing Benfield Parcel A (see Mosquito, January 16). As previously reported, the Carlisle Conservation Foundation (CCF) has secured an option to purchase 45 acres (Parcel A) of the Benfield property off South Street and will offer it to the town for purchase at a Special Town Meeting on March 23, recommending that CPA funds be used to cover all costs.
The CPC is composed of representatives of the Board of Selectmen, Planning Board, Housing Authority, Conservation Commission, Recreation Department and Historical Commission. Caren Ponty is CPC Chair.
Selectman John Ballantine presented an overview of the CCF/Benfield option, with input from CCF director Greg Peterson in the audience. The option agreement between the town and CCF is currently being drawn up by Town Counsel. It will include the cost of the purchase ($1.985 million) and a concept plan for 21 acres of the 45-acre parcel that offers multi-use possibilities, including locations for affordable housing and active recreation.
One of the action items specified by the Board of Selectmen is that the CPC hire an independent appraiser. Since the property has already been appraised by the Benfields, discussion centered on the need for another appraisal, especially in light of the tight pre-Town Meeting timeframe and before specific uses of the property have been determined. Peterson replied, "The appraiser is going to look at its fair-market value, not our intended use." Phyllis Zinicola of the Planning Board suggested that the purpose of an independent appraisal is "to be sure we're not paying too much." The committee later voted to hire an appraiser, at a cost not to exceed $5,000, and they underscored the time constraints.
Jack Bromley representing the Housing Authority asked, "Who will own the property, the Town of Carlisle, the CPA Committee? And if the town owns it, are we going to be completely hamstrung with our ability to do our own development on it?"
"The Town of Carlisle, through the CPA Committee, is the owner," Peterson said. "The designation of the 21 acres is for CPA uses. The article in the motion would say specifically that and CPA uses would be housing and active recreation." Ponty added that the 21 acres would be managed by the CPA Committee.
CPC drafting Warrant Article
The motion Peterson referred to is the Warrant Article to be presented to Town Meeting on March 23. "The CPC will be the primary drafters, with Town Counsel, of the Warrant Article." said Ballantine. "The Selectmen aren't drafting the Warrant Article."
Zinicola expressed concern that this acquisition might be portrayed as another conservation project at Town Meeting rather than a multi-use opportunity. "Affordable housing has to be one of the uses," she urged. "It must be explicit in the Warrant, and state a specific percentage of the land for housing and recreation." Other committee members and CCF members in the audience disagreed. Jay Luby of the CCF said, "First you need the land before you can even talk about ways to use it. Your goal should be to figure out how to get most of the people in town to vote for the land, because if it doesn't get voted, [housing] is a moot point." Zinicola replied, "I would reach the exact opposite conclusion. We have no other viable opportunities to make sure this doesn't become the next 21-acre conservation parcel." Ponty suggested that specificity on housing in the Warrant would make Town Meeting discussion center on "how many units are we going to build" rather than "if we're going to build."
Peterson clarified that the 21 acres would be used for any CPA purpose, "but with the explicit expectation that you would be doing a master plan over the course of the next yearroads, parking, and where should the future housing locations be." He added, "Even if you were to designate in this initial Town Meeting vote that the understanding is that at least, let's say, eight acres of the property will be made available for affordable or municipal employee housing, you're still going to have to do the work."
Ballantine summarized that "the town will more receptive about purchasing this property if the concept of affordable housing is there, but not a specific plan, because if you put a specific plan in place people will think they're voting on it, not on the property." The specific plan would be presented to Town Meeting in 2005. David Chaffin of the Historical Commission pointed out that maximum flexibility in the planning process will be needed.
On the fast track
The CPC members must go back to their constituent boards and committees in the next two weeks for approvals and endorsements to move this process along. Following these meetings, the committee will meet again on January 28 to share their feedback and start working on language for the Warrant.
Under the Community Preservation Act, the CPC is required to hold an annual public hearing, which members scheduled for February 11. By that time specific language will have been drafted, questions from the audience can be answered, and the Warrant Article can be fine-tuned.
Maureen Tarca of the Recreation Department pointed out the complexity of this process and recommended that the committee hire a person as coordinator, saying that funds have been designated under the CPA. The funding might be presented as a separate motion at Town Meeting.
From the audience, Sarah Hart, a neighbor of the Benfields, asked what would happen if the town agreed to buy the land, didn't proceed with its plans and then wanted to sell it. Could this be done, perhaps even sell it to a developer? Conservationist Ken Harte replied that because of deed restrictions, the land could never be sold for non-CPA use.
CCF member Art Milliken pointed out the educational process that must go forward and offered CCF's help in working with CPC to "help the town understand what they will be voting on." Milliken suggested setting up some walks through the land for the public. Bromley emphasized the very special nature of the Benfield land, calling it a "spectacular property. You'd be hard pressed to have seen a more beautiful property in Carlisle." In addition, the likely place for housing will not be visible from the street.
As the meeting drew to a close, Ballantine thanked Peterson and the CCF for "what you have brought to us" and thanked the Benfields for their generosity. "Let's not forget the big picture," he reminded the committee. "They could have done a subdivision with 50 or 60 houses. "This is a great opportunity for the town, but lots of work lies ahead. We shouldn't lose sight of that."
© 2004 The