Friday, February 13, 2004
Town rushes toward March 23 Town Meeting
As the Special Town Meeting on March 23 nears, Carlisle's citizens are scrambling to understand the details of the proposed purchase of the 45-acre Parcel A, how it will be financed, and what obligations this creates for future development. Although the Warrant Articles have not been finalized, town officials have made progress in defining the possibilities and legal limitations.
Answers to key questions are beginning to emerge. However, this is still a work in progress.
What will we be asked to vote on?
One or more Warrant Articles will likely ask the town to:
• Purchase the 45-acre Parcel A, located off South Street, from the Benfield family for $1.985 million.
• Finance the purchase using Community Preservation Act (CPA - see below) funds. One possible scenario is to use $500,000 from the CPA fund as down payment and then pay off the $1,500,000 balance with a 15-year bond paid by CPA receipts of approximately $130K per year. This will not increase taxes, but will require the town to renew the 2% CPA surtax until the bond is repaid. However, the Finance Committee is exploring alternative financing options (See story on page 6)
• Reserve the 24-acre back field and wetlands along Spencer Brook as open space, with passive recreation allowed;
• Approve funding (possibly up to $50,000, according to Selectman John Ballantine) for a year-long public planning process to define the uses of the remaining 21 acres, as limited by the CPA statute, namely active recreation, community housing or open space. If no funds are approved, the planning process will be carried out by town volunteers, without professional consultants.
The Carlisle Conservation Foundation (CCF), which negotiated the land purchase option, has stipulated that the entire field visible from South Street be kept in open space including, active athletic field use, and that "significant buffers" along neighboring property lines be designated.
What will be included in the Warrant Articles?
Town officials are determining how many details of future land usage to include in the Warrant Articles. The Community Preservation Act Committee believes that the CPA statute requires some specificity as to the use of the 2 1 -acre portion not reserved for open space (See story on page __.) According to CPA Committee Chair Caren Ponty, they will probably specify that approximately five acres, the entire front field along south street and a buffer along the entire northerly boundary be designated for open space, (including active recreation in the South Street field) and about 10 acres be designated for some combination of community housing active recreation and additional open space. The Selectmen doubt that the town will be able to bond the purchase of the property without this level of specificity, and will seek advice from bond counsel.
What is the CPA?
In March 2001 Carlisle voted to join the Massachusetts Community Preservation Act (CPA) and levy a 2% surcharge on real estate taxes, with the money to be spent as follows: 10% for open space preservation, 10% for historic resources, 10% for community housing, and 70% to be spent according to recommendations of a Community Preservation Act Committee (CPA Committee). The state matches up to 100% of funds collected by the levy.
The current balance in the CPA fund is $900,000, with an additional $240,000 expected in May 2004. All expenditures of CPA funds must be approved by a two-thirds vote of Town Meeting.
Why do we need more town land?
Over the last five years town boards and committees have repeatedly stated that the town does not have enough unrestricted land for identified community needs. Carlisle's Year 2000 Open Space and Recreation Plan, a document approved by Town Meeting (available at the Gleason Public Library and the Conservation Commission office at Town Hall), ranked the Benfield property at the top of the list of properties that the town would like to acquire.
Must we specify affordable housing?
A state law, known as Chapter 40B, mandates that a minimum of 10% of housing in every town be "affordable." In towns like Carlisle that do not meet the 10% requirement, a developer may appeal to the state for a comprehensive permit to build higher density housing than permitted by local zoning requirements, provided 25% of the units are affordable. Since Carlisle has less than 1% affordable housing stock, it runs the risk of losing control of developments within the town.
What type of housing does CPA allow?
The CPA law allows "community housing", which may include low and moderate income housing for individuals and families, as well as low or moderate income senior housing. Building mixed housing for all allowed income groups is acceptable, but building only senior housing might be viewed by the state as age discrimination.
"Low income housing" is defined as housing for those persons and families whose annual income is less than 80% of the area-wide median income. "Moderate income housing" is housing for those persons and families whose annual income is less than 100% of the areawide median income. "Low or moderate income senior housing", is housing for those persons having reached the age of 60 or over who would qualify for low or moderate income housing.
What is the median income?
The median income is determined by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, and is approximately $80,000 for a family of four in our area.
What is the process for developing the land?
Should the town decide to use the 21 acres for housing or active recreation the following steps are required.
1. The March 23 Special Town Meeting must approve the purchase the land by a two-thirds vote.
2. The Selectmen must then appoint a planning committee with a charge to develop a master plan for the 21 multi-use acres to be presented to the May 2005 Town Meeting. According to Selectman John Ballantine the master plan will define the needs of the town, determine what is appropriate for Carlisle, and recommend what type of housing, (number of units, cost, etc.) should be built.
3. Funds for community housing and recreational facilities must be approved by a vote or votes at the 2005 or subsequent Town Meeting.
What input will citizens have?
The 21 acres will remain as open space until funds for development are voted by Town Meeting. Consequently, the town will have a number of opportunites to approve or reject any specific development proposal.
Citizens are encouraged to attend all public meetings of town boards. The CPA Committeee will hold a public hearing on February 25, and has promised to notify abutters of this hearing.
The CCF has stipulated,as a condition of CCF's offer to the town, that the planning committee should include neighborhood representatives.
What's the rush?
The CCF negotiated and exercised the option to purchase Parcel A with a 10% nonrefundable deposit. This option expires on April 17.
© 2004 The