Friday, March 5, 2004
Confusion continues over Benfield land purchase
Twenty-four hours after attending the Selectmen's meeting on February 24, neighbors of the Benfield property again filled the Clark Room, this time to participate in a public hearing held by the Community Preservation Act Committee (CPAcom). (See box.)
The audience came hoping for definition and clarification on the potential uses of Benfield Parcel A on South Street and to air their concerns that their neighborhood is being unfairly targeted. After two and a half hours of intense discussion, the South Street/West Street neighbors were only slightly enlightened and even the Board of Selectmen and the CPAcom were at odds.
The Special Town Meeting on March 23 will vote on the purchase of the two-million-dollar parcel using the town's the Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds.
Public's chance to speak
A mere 24 hours earlier, the Selectmen had approved a new version of the purchase and sale agreement between the Carlisle Conservation Foundation (CCF), which holds the option to purchase the Benfield property, and the town. Selectman John Ballantine, who also sits on the CPAcom, reported that the BOS agreement added two restrictions on the usage of Parcel A — a maximum of 26 housing units and one ballfield on the 19 acres not designated for open space. CPAcom member Phyllis Zinicola pointed out that the committee had not had an opportunity to discuss the agreement passed the night before.
Fred Seward of South Street was concerned about the ballfield, fearing the introduction of chain link fences and bright lights. Maureen Tarca of the Recreation Commission and the CPAcom responded, "I don't know where anyone got 'lights.' This isn't real, this hasn't been passed by Town Meeting yet. This is a huge property; we can disguise it with hedges and trees." It was further pointed out that any municipal property would undergo several approval processes before town boards before it is approved.
John Lee, CPAcom member and a resident of the center, reminded the audience that, "Your neighborhood is not the only neighborhood in town that has been asked to stomach some of the development that is a result of the success of the Carlisle community." When Town Hall was built, Lee recalled, boards and committees worked very closely with the neighbors to ensure that the project was "minimally offensive." Ray Kubacki of South Street challenged Lee's assertion that other neighborhoods have been adversely affected. Lee reeled off the municipal buildings in the center, "plus all the churches, post office, bikeways they're all here in the center."
Juergen Lemmerman of South Street expressed the frustration of many that "this whole project has been rushed through. Some people feel railroaded and this generates a feeling of skepticism." He suggested using town funds to purchase the property, thereby gaining "more time to be sure what the town wants." From the audience Selectman Doug Stevenson assured residents that the Selectmen had considered this alternative, but chose the CPA path to purchasing the property.
"Imagine yourself the voter who doesn't come to meetings like this," suggested South Street resident Mary DeGarmo, "and trying to sort through the issues. People here trying to educate themselves are mystified. Imagine the person who comes to Town Meeting to vote and hasn't spent the time that we have." DeGarmo added her concern over the tight deadline and the threat of the "bogeyman of 40B."
Caps on housing units
Abutter Sarah Hart approved of the upper-limit added by the Selectmen, but she worried that the scenario would change again. "Who is going to take responsibility for understanding the CPA and what the limits can be?" she asked. Chaffin assured Hart that any motion at Town Meeting would be consistent with the terms of the purchase and sale agreement. Jack Bromley of the CPAcom acknowledged that this is "an enormously complex transaction. It changes all the time." He reiterated the CPAcom's mandate to act in a financial review capacity to promote CPA purposes.
Tensions developed between the CPAcom and the Selectmen over wording in the purchase and sale agreement. The CPAcom favored specifying minimum acreages for CPA purposes — community housing and ballfields — and the Selectmen chose to insert a maximum number of units instead. "This committee is feeling somewhat railroaded by the Selectmen," said Tarca. Addressing the Selectmen present, Zinicola said, "I think that 26 units is where we'll end up, but the way it was imposed — why are you offering this ultimatum when there is so much room for discussion?" Chaput replied, "We certainly did not feel it was an ultimatum, and we regret that. We felt it was a reasonable compromise."
Former CCF director Steve Hinton had the last word, thanking everyone in the room for their hard work, and pointing out that "everyone has had to compromise on one point or other." He urged, "Let's keep going. We can do this."
© 2004 The