Friday, February 6, 2004
Finally, affordable housing has a chance
As we have been reading in this newspaper over the past month, the town will have an opportunity to purchase 45 acres of land on South Street from the Benfield family to be used for conservation, active recreation and affordable housing. At a Special Town Meeting scheduled for March 23, the Carlisle Conservation Foundation (CCF), which has secured an option to purchase the property, will offer it to the town, which would use Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds and bonding to cover the $1.985 million cost.
Under the terms of the CCF offer, the town would use 21 acres of the parcel for active recreation and affordable housing. How long has the RecCom been looking for land on which to build playing fields? And how many times has the Housing Authority attempted to find land on which to build low-income housing? On March 23, the citizens of Carlisle will finally have the opportunity to acquire a prime parcel of land for both of these purposes.
The state affordable housing law (40B) stipulates that unless 10% of the town's housing stock is "affordable," a builder can come into the town and develop a parcel of land under a "comprehensive permit," bypassing town zoning bylaws, as long as 25% of the units he builds are affordable. On the other hand, if the town can do its own planning to build qualifying housing equal to three-quarters of one percent of the town's housing stock per year (about 12 units), then under 40B it can deny comprehensive permits.
The town couldn't find a better spot for conservation, ballfields and affordable housing than this parcel. The open field along South Street appears to be an easily developed location for athletic fields. Well back from the road, in a densely wooded area, is land on which affordable housing units could be built, far from neighboring residential areas. The conservation land runs from a stone wall that marks the edge of the woods to Spencer Brook. The open field between the stone wall and the extensive wetlands along Spencer Brook is stunningly beautiful and ideal for a Sunday afternoon hike, a family picnic or a kite-flying expedition; a one-hundred-yard boardwalk would enable a trail connection to the Bisbee Land on Concord Street.
With the CCF option to purchase the Benfield land expiring in mid-April, the town must vote in March on whether to acquire the land. Due to a lack of time, there are many details that haven't been worked out yet. Under the Town Meeting motion, a Master Plan Committee will be appointed to come up with a site plan and present their findings for a vote at the Annual Town Meeting in 2005.
This is an opportunity of a lifetime. Using CPA funds and without raising taxes, Carlisle can acquire a multi-purpose land parcel for conservation, to meet the town's need for additional ball fields, and finally, to provide an ideal site for affordable housing.
The Carlisle Conservation Foundation will be offering walking tours of the Benfield property. for details.
Stewards of the land
The extraordinary generosity of the Benfield family in offering the town "spectacularly beautiful land" for open space, community housing and recreation is inspiring. They sacrificed enormous profits that could have been reaped from developed land to preserve the rural beauty of this town. Theirs is a long-lasting legacy.
While recognizing the Benfields' unique contribution to the community, we should also applaud the generosity of our friends and neighbors who have volunteered countless hours to ensure that this opportunity reaches fruition. For three or more years, the Carlisle Conservation Foundation (CCF), led by Greg Peterson, negotiated with the Benfield family to offer the town "Parcel A" for multi-purpose use, to be financed by Community Preservation Act funds. The Community Preservation Committee (CPC), which oversees these funds, now meets regularly to frame a motion for the March 23 Special Town Meeting, which will vote on the acquisition. Assuming the purchase is approved, even more complex work lies ahead as the community crafts a master land-use plan for the 2005 Town Meeting.
CCF and CPC are merely acronyms; it's easy to forget that there are people behind them and the other committees working on the Benfield land acquisition. Volunteerism runs our town. This winter, volunteers on several town committees and boards, as well as conservation leaders and housing and recreation advocates, regularly give up evenings at home with their families to bring the Benfield land to a successful vote. Several times last week, Town Hall's parking lot overflowed and lights shone late into the snow-sparkling night as committees and their attentive audiences debated the shape and financing of the parcel. Like the Benfields, these volunteers are stewards of the land. They deserve recognition and our gratitude.
The diversity of bundled-up residents crowding into Town Hall last week suggests an alliance of Carlisleans of all ages — longtime residents and a sprinkling of newcomers — all working for the good of the community. Conservationists who are veterans of Wang-Coombs and the Conant Land tell war stories that often lend a cautionary note to the current deliberations. The discussions are intense, thoughtful and productive, with all eyes focused on the March 23 Town Meeting.
Attending Town Meeting, for most of us, is an occasional obligation. Getting out of the house may require rearranging dinnertime, and planning for child-care and homework supervision. Some of us find diversions and excuses that prevent us from participating in town government. If a small army of volunteers can give up their private lives night after night to secure Carlisle's future, the rest of us should be able to attend Town Meeting, where the land acquisition decision is actually made.
This is an exciting, unprecedented time in Carlisle's history. To be part of it, join the audience at one of the upcoming meetings and watch our dedicated, skilled volunteers preserve our small, rural, beautiful town. Then attend Town Meeting and vote to do the same.
© 2004 The