The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, January 30, 2004


Town boards look at Benfield land purchase proposal FinCom questions cost of developing the parcel for recreation, housing

A Special Town Meeting called for March 23 will ask the town to approve the purchase of 45 acres of land on South Street from the Benfield family to be used for recreation, affordable housing, and conservation. According to the Warrant, which is still open, the $2 million purchase would be financed entirely using Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds collected through a surcharge on property taxes and matched by the state. A number of town boards that will be asked to advise the Selectmen and the public on the proposed purchase have debated the proposal in recent meetings.

FinCom has questions

Greg Peterson of the Carlisle Conservation Foundation (CCF), Selectman John Ballantine and Selectman Vivian Chaput who serves on the Community Preservation Act Committee (CPC) visited the FinCom on January 21 to answer questions about the proposed purchase of the Benfield property "Parcel A."

A key question is how much it will cost to develop the parcel beyond the $2 million purchase price. Peterson said a "related capital expenditure analysis" will be undertaken over the course of a year if the measure passes. FinCom Chair Lisa Jensen-Fellows said voters need to have some idea of total costs before they vote, and suggested presenting some scenarios, including where the town might get others, such as a developer, to pick up some costs. Bret Bero suggested looking at revenue generators such as a skating rink when planning the recreation portion.

Assuming the town would use a ten- year bond to fund the plan, Jensen-Fellows wondered what would happen if the state stopped supporting the CPA program, or if voters chose not to renew the surcharge when it comes up in two years. Peterson said the bond would require continuation of the CPA past the five-year mark, when it would otherwise have to be renewed. The town's contribution would have to remain adequate to provide debt support with no expectation of state funds.

Peterson noted there are limitations on what the town can charge for rent on the apartments to qualify as affordable. He felt it might be possible rent would cover construction costs but not the cost of land. While the housing would not completely satisfy the state requirement, it would represent an increase of 1/2% of total Carlisle housing per year. He felt this level of effort would be looked on favorably in the event of a zoning challenge by a developer. Under the 40B law, a developer has the right to challenge zoning restrictions in towns with inadequate affordable housing.

"Is this a good deal?" asked Jensen-Fellows. "What if we buy the land and can't do the affordable housing?" She noted that past efforts at affordable housing have been defeated at Town Meeting. Peterson said the land would be worth $4 to 5 million as a subdivision and suggested short-term financing could be used initially to retain flexibility, with no prepayment penalties if the plan changes.

After the visitors departed, FinCom members commented on the plan. "It's a bargain," said David Trask. "This is the most generous thing that ever happened to this community." Added Bero, "I'm for it for all the reasons you said." But, he noted, between this project, and other proposed capital projects (the wastewater treatment plant, the expansion at the Carlisle School, and high school renovations), "we're done for the decade. There's no reserve borrowing capacity."

ConsCom says yes

without reservations

On January 22, the Conservation Commission voted unanimously to approve the proposal to keep 21 acres of the parcel for housing and active receation and the remainder for protected open space.

Commissioner John Lee commented that it was his personal opinion that this represents spectacular generosity on behalf of the Carlisle Conservation Foundation (CCF) and the Benfields, and is the last best opportunity to acquire land for both conservation and the opportunity to build playing fields and affordable housing, a goal expressed by all land committees over the last ten years. "We are a horse-and-buggy town and we want it to stay that way," Lee said, "but we also want recreational facilities and to keep economic stratification in town." He pointed out that an affordable housing complex on the property will not be "in anyone's backyard."

Lee also said he would like to see the CCF break even on this effort so that they could afford to do similar projects in the future.

Planning Board

supports purchase

At the request of the Community Preservation Act Committee (CPC), the Planning Board, at its January 26 meeting, held an informal hearing to discuss the town's potential purchase of Parcel A of the Benfield Property.

CCF director, Greg Peterson, presented to the board an overview of the project, which included use of 21 acres of the property for affordable housing and recreation, and use of the remaining 24 acres for open space and passive recreation. The board gave its approval of the project and suggested that in order for the Warrant Article to be approved, it needs to be simple and precise. Being too specific, the board warned, could lead to confusion and complications. It is important for the town to understand that the property will be used for the purposes defined by the CPA guidelines, as well as for affordable housing, recreation and conservation purposes. The board also suggested that the Warrant Article should state that this vote to acquire the land should be subject to a long-term planning process that will further develop the goals and intended uses of the property. This process should include funds to hire consultants to develop a full site-development plan for the project.

Historical Commission approves

Caren Ponty, Chair of the Community Preservation Committee (CPC), dropped in at the Historical Commission's January 27 meeting to discuss the acquisition of the Benfield land using Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds. Following discussion, the consensus of the board was to approve the use of the funds. Chair Mary Ann Kitrosser will attend the January 28 meeting of the CPC when representatives of constituent boards and committees will present their views.

2004 The Carlisle Mosquito