The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, March 12, 2004


Q&As about the purchase of the Benfield Parcel A

As the Special Town Meeting on March 23 nears, Carlisle's citizens have asked a number of questions about the details of the proposed purchase of the 45-acre Parcel A, how the purchase will be financed, and what obligations this creates for future development.

What will we be asked to vote for?

The motion that will be made on the Town Meeting floor is five pages long and complex. Briefly, it asks if the town will purchase the 45-acre parcel for conservation, active recreation and affordable housing, financing the purchase, in part with funds from the Carlisle Community Preservation Act (CPA) fund. (See a summary of the motion this page, and articles on options for financing the purchase on pages 8 and 9.)

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 only on: historic resources, community housing, open space preservation and recreation fields. While the bulk (70%) of the funds can be spent under any of these categories, 10% is reserved for open space preservation, 10% for historic resources, and 10% for community housing.

The state matches up to 100% of funds collected by the town's levy.

Project applications are reviewed by the Community Preservation Act Committee (CPA Committee) which will then makes recommendations to Town Meeting. All expenditures of CPA funds must be approved by a two-thirds vote of Town Meeting.

The current balance in the CPA fund is $922,000, with an additional $260,000 expected in May 2004.

In the past two years the state has matched 100% of the amount collected by the town, for a total contribution of $453,151.

The State's Community Preservation Fund has sufficient money to continue matching at 100% for at least three more years. However, there are those who worry that the state may try to divert those funds to other uses.

Does purchasing the land obligate us to build something on the land? Suppose the 2005 Town Meeting votes not to accept the "Master Plan" for the front 19 acres?

The motion specifies that 26 acres, the "back field," will remain open space, and the remaining 19 acres will be designated for active recreation and affordable housing. If the town agrees to the purchase, a Parcel A Planning Task Force will be appointed and charged with creating a detailed Master Plan for the development of the 19 front acres, to be presented to Town Meeting in 2005.

No development of the land can take place unless approved by the 2005 or subsequent Town Meeting. The 19 acres will remain as open space until funds for development are voted. However, if the Town rejects the Master Plan, the 19 acres will come under the "fall-back plan," which will limit the use of specific portions of the 19-acres to active recreation or housing. No other uses of the land will be permissible for the future.

The CPA Committee and the FinCom have both stated that they would not support the purchase of Parcel A if it were to remain entirely open space.

What is the ANR Plan?

The so-called "ANR plan" (Approval Not Required by the Planning Board) was the plan developed for Parcel A by the Benfield family. It divided the 45 acres into five lots, ranging in size from 4.74 to 7.06 acres, plus 14 acres of unbuildable wetlands. Although each lot was drawn with a "housing envelope" of approximately one acre where a house can be built, large portions of each lot could be developed with swimming pools, tennis courts, lighted ballfields and long paved driveways.

According to CCF Director Greg Peterson, the Benfields drew the plan primarily as a vehicle to develop pricing for the parcel. The CCF has signed a Purchase and Sale agreement for Parcel A with the Benfield family.

In granting an ANR approval the Planning Board simply states that the plan as drawn meets town zoning bylaws and does not require any variances or subdivision approvals.

Why does Carlisle need affordable housing? What is Chapter 40B?

A state law, known as Chapter 40B, mandates that a minimum of 10% of housing in every town be "affordable." In towns 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 only 1% affordable housing stock (18 units), it runs the risk of losing control of developments within the town.

A recent amendment states that towns which add 2% of the mandated number of affordable housing units per year will not be required to accept 40B developments. If Carlisle builds 26 affordable units it will buy two years of protection from a 40B developer. However, in order to meet the 10% mandate, the town will need another 125 units.

What type of housing does CPA allow?

The CPA law allows the use of the CPA moneys to build "community housing", which may include low and moderate income housing for individuals and families, as well as low or moderate income senior housing. Mixed housing for all allowed income groups is acceptable, but a town could not decide to build only senior housing as this would constitute age discrimination.

"Low income housing" is defined as housing for those persons and families whose annual income is less than 80% of the areawide 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. The areawide 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 region.

However, for owner-occupied housing to count toward Carlisle's 40B quota, it must be low-income housing for families or seniors. To qualify for low-income housing, the individuals or families must earn no more than:

$66,100 for a family of four

$59,500 for a family of three

$53,000 for a family of two

$46,300 for one

All rental housing for families and seniors with low or moderate incomes qualifies toward the 40B quota.

Towns are allowed to establish a local preference for residents, currently for up to 70% of the units.

Why do we need a ball field on South Street?

In the 2000 update to town's Open Space and Recreation Plan, the Recreation Commission (RecCom) forecast a need for an additional soccer field, one softball and two Little League fields. In 2001 the Municipal Land Committee estimated that an additional 12 to 20 recreational acres (four to six ball fields) will be needed over the 2002-2020 time frame.

According to Maureen Tarca, Chair of the Recreation Commission and member of the CPA Committee, there are other town properties where ball fields may be built, but in the long-term, the town will need more space for active recreation. In fact, the RecCom's current priority is to build one soccer field and one baseball field on the Banta-Davis Land off Bedford Road (20 acres total), as soon as the Carlisle School agrees it does not need to use the property for a new school in the foreseeable future. The South Street land is needed, said Tarca, but the timing for construction of playing fields is not known.

In addition, active recreation is permissible, but not always practical, on other town-owned lands, says Ken Harte, who was involved in the town's purchase of several properties. Foss Farm off Bedford Road was purchased specifically for both conservation and recreation. In fact, a baseball diamond existed there in the 1970s and currently the pony club has a riding ring on the property. The 57-acre property is fairly flat, but there is already competition for the land by multiple users.

The Bisbee Land, 35 acres on Concord Street, is another possible site. The Conant Land, 57 acres off Westford Street was bought for multipurpose use, but the hilly, rocky terrain is not suitable for playing fields. The Town Forest on East Street, 69 acres managed by the Conservation Commission under Chapter 97, is widely regarded by town officials as being off limits.

Why are we being rushed? Why can't we take the time to discuss the questions and get the answers?

Once a Purchase and Sale Agreement is signed, property sales usually have a defined, limited time to closing. Similarly, when a parcel is removed from agricultural or forestry protection, the town has a120-day right of first refusal to purchase the land.

The Benfield family gave the CCF 120 days to complete the purchase or lose the 10% deposit. The CCF's deadline is April 21. They need to know whether the town will purchase the property at least ten days before, in order to allow them time to call in the funds from their investors. Similarly, should the Town Meeting vote to purchase Parcel A, the town will need a minimum of ten days to two weeks to negotiate the bond, or a short-term BAN (Bond Anticipation Note).

What will happen to Parcel A if the town votes against the purchase?

If the town does not purchase Parcel A, then the CCF, which has signed a Purchase and Sale Agreement with the Benfield family and paid a 10% non-refundable deposit, will have no choice but to purchase the land with funds promised by their group of individual investors. CCF President Art Milliken told the Mosquito that in that case, the Foundation's first priority will be to "get the money back [to the investors] in the spirit of the five-lot ANR plan."

Their preference would be to redraw the lot lines to leave the back field as open space, as much of it is wetland. If land prices remain high, it may be possible to recoup the investment by selling fewer than five lots. However, CCF Director Greg Peterson thought that at least four lots will need to be sold.

Is it possible that all or some of the lots will be sold to developers that wish to build a 40B development? "We would work pretty hard against that," said Peterson. "It would be choice number ten, out of ten," said Milliken. However, neither one could absolutely exclude that possibility if no other buyers could be found over a reasonable period of time.

2004 The Carlisle Mosquito