The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, March 26, 2004


Town Meeting approves purchase of Benfield Parcel A

The Special Town Meeting on Tuesday approved the motion to purchase the Benfield Parcel A, with only nine votes making the difference in achieving the required two-thirds majority. The motion carried 395 to 185.

An overflow crowd packed the school auditorium and the meeting started 30 minutes late as the line to check in stretched to the parking lot. Three hours of presentations, questions, comments, and rebuttals preceded the vote, as supporters worked to provide information and dispel misconceptions, opponents raised red flags regarding costs and impacts, and citizens struggled to understand the complex proposal.

A rose for Vivian. (Photo by Midge Eliassen)

The meeting began with a remembrance of Selectman Vivian Chaput, who died in a car accident two weeks ago. As a single white rose stood at her empty seat, Selectman Chair Tim Hult read an emotional tribute, recounting her leadership and style over two decades of service on the Board of Selectman and Planning Board.

Secret ballot voted down

Moderator Tom Raftery then recognized Mary DeGarmo of South Street who asked that the vote on Motion 1 be by secret ballot, "to allow us to vote our true feelings in a democratic way, without fear of censure or public influence."

"It's just not the way we do business in Carlisle," objected 30-year town resident Tim Eliassen of Virginia Farme. "We always come together as friends and neighbors, and we leave as friends and neighbors." The motion failed.

Motions 1 and 2

Phyllis Zinicola of the Community Preservation Act Committee (CPAcom, also known as the CPC) read Motion 1, asking the town to appropriate $2 million to purchase the 45.23 acre Parcel A, with 26 acres designated as open space and 19.23 acres designated for "no more than one developed athletic field and no more than 26 housing units" of affordable housing. She explained that the CPAcom "wanted to put a limit to not unduly burden this neighborhood." The committee had also added a provision that any land left over after the affordable housing and recreation goal had been achieved "could be permanently designated open space."

What is the CPA?

In March 2001 Carlisle voted to join the Community Preservation Act (CPA) and levy a 2% surcharge on real estate taxes, with the money to be spent only on historic preservation, community housing, open space and recreation. The state matches up to 100% of funds collected by the town's levy.

Motion 2 authorized a Parcel A Planning Task Force, consisting of representatives of the neighborhood, several town boards, and the community at large, to create a master plan for the 19-acre portion "to most appropriately site the housing and recreational use."

Motion 2 also provided a "fallback plan," in the event that the town rejects the master plan. The fallback plan places deed restrictions on 14 acres designated for community housing and 5,23 acres for active recreation. "If we buy with CPA fund money, we must permanently deed-restrict and delineate specific areas to specific purposes," Zinicola explained.

Greg Peterson (Photo by Rik Pierce)

CCF explains "Why Benfield?"

Greg Peterson of the Carlisle Conservation Foundation (CCF) addressed the question "why we negotiated for the option on Parcel A and brought it to the town for a public vote." Since 1997 the CCF — founded in part by Parcel A owner Ben Benfield 40 years ago — had been looking to preserve land along West Street. In addition, the foundation had become concerned that state law Chapter 40B was "a major threat to the rural nature of Carlisle." In towns that do not meet the the mandated minimum of 10% affordable housing, 40B permits a developer to build a higher-density housing development than allowed by local zoning bylaws, provided that 25% of the units are affordable.

Peterson noted three reasons the foundation recommended Parcel A:

1. "It's a great piece of land" and had been "on top of the town's wish list for twenty years" due to its large size, mix of fields and woods, and large buildable area with soils that "perc like a dream."

2. "It's available at a uniquely favorable price." Peterson compared the $2 million Parcel A price to a recent sale in the same area of fourteen acres as three building lots for $1.86 million. The Benfield family had developed a plan for Parcel A that showed five building lots as well as some open space.

3. Town-directed development would provide "more and better conservation." Under the Benfield plan there would be little restriction on private developers and the open space would be accessible to guided tours only. The town plan would keep 41 acres open "with full public access to both fields." He then pointed to Village Court, the senior housing complex on Church Street, as an example of 18 units on two acres "completely inoffensive to anyone."

Peterson noted that 40B activity is heating up, with "one-third of all 40B developments [since the law was passed in 1969] proposed in the past three to four years." Regarding an assertion there is other town land available, Peterson responded, "I wish that were true, but it is absolutely untrue." He pointed to legal restrictions and other reasons why other town properties could not easily be developed.

CPAcom defends purchase

Selectman John Ballantine, a member of the CPAcom, said purchase of the property will "give us an opportunity to manage our future in the areas of housing, recreation, and open space."

Jack Bromley, Housing Authority representative to the CPAcom, noted, "Lack of affordable housing threatens the long-term viability of our region . . . Housing is so expensive [local companies] can't hire at competitive rates." Bromley then illustrated the impending threat of 40B by pointing to large developments in Bedford and Concord and the two developments in Carlisle. He noted that Avalon Bay, a developer of 300-unit complexes with affordable housing components, "has been looking around in Carlisle for the last twelve months at least," and that developers will be looking for small lots for mixed housing similar to Laurel Hollow or Carlisle Woods [each eight units of which two are affordable].

Maureen Tarca, Recreation Commission representative to the CPAcom, reported that Carlisle now restricts its sports offerings and "there's no room for any practices for any sport in Carlisle" due to a lack of playing fields. The likelihood is that the town-owned Banta-Davis Land on Bedford Road will be available for two fields if the Carlisle School chooses to expand on their existing site. Tarca added, "The RecCom is 100% committed to working through the planning process" to deal with neighborhood concerns regarding visibility and traffic. She also noted a ballfield on Parcel A would be a long-term option and would not be developed soon.

Town boards weigh in

After the presentations by CPAcom representatives, Moderator Tom Raftery asked for town boards to state their positions on Motion 1. Selectman Doug Stevenson stated that the Board of Selectmen does not support the Motion, splitting two to one on the issue. After calls of "Why?" from the audience, Stevenson explained, "[Motion 1] bakes in the results of the planning process." Selectmen Tony Allison, also opposed, called the purchase "an expensive stop-gap" that will only defer the 40B threat for two years. Selectman John Ballantine supported the Motion. With the death of Selectman Vivian Chaput and the self-recusal of Selectman Tim Hult (a CCF investor), only three members of the board participated in the deliberations.

The seven-member Finance Committee (FinCom) recommended approval of the proposal, with two members opposed. Chair Lisa Jensen-Fellows explained that price, the reduction in the 40B threat, and the ability to use CPA funds were convincing. "This is a prudent and sensible use of CPA funds . . . allowing flexibility to make other investments." Jensen-Fellows noted two down payments, using CPA funds, would reduce the amount of outstanding debt to $1.2 million in two years. Under most scenarios, the debt would be paid down early, possibly within six years.

Planning Board Chair Louise Hara stated that the board unanimously supports the purchase. Hara showed hypothetical sketches of private developments versus a town-controlled cluster, concluding that the cluster would have "a smaller footprint, less environmental impact, and full neighborhood and public access to both meadows."

Conservation Commission Chair Tricia Smith conveyed the ConsCom's unanimous support of the motion. Hal Sauer of the Board of Appeals, which recently approved Carlisle's first 40B development on Lowell Street, also spoke in support.

Ray Kubacki (Photo by Lois d'Annunzio)
Neighbors are heard

Ray Kubacki, representing the Concerned Citizens of Carlisle which includes Parcel A abutters and other town residents, was the first to present the opposing arguments. Kubacki noted the costs of the project would include not only land, but modification of South Street to accept more traffic, housing construction, housing subsidy, housing management, fire, water, and septic costs, and costs to develop a ballfield and parking lot. "Total costs are unknown," he stated. "They are open-ended but significant."

He then pointed to Carlisle's taxes which he called "the fourth highest in the Commonwealth," and the expected future expenses of enlarging the Carlisle School and renovating Concord-Carlisle High School. Noting the uncertainty of continuing state matches for the CPA surcharge, Kubacki concluded, "It's an unnecessary burden in our current economic environment."

Jeff Kiel of Davis Road, a South Street landowner, noted 40B has been in effect for 35 years and "Carlisle's lack of sewer and water limits development." He said the Benfield 26-unit plan is inconsistent with the Carlisle Housing Plan, approved by the 2001 Town Meeting, which calls for small clusters of affordable housing "to blend into the fabric of the community." Finally, he took aim at the planning process, noting "the plan outcome is predetermined." He pointed to the split in the Board of Selectmen as an indication the planning process is flawed.

Kiel suggested that in the event the motion fails, the CCF would purchase the land, preserve the 26 acres of open space and return to the Benfield five-lot plan "in a conscientious manner" at no cost to taxpayers. He recommended the town "conserve CPA funds for a project on existing town lands" and reduce or eliminate the 2% CPA surtax as Carlisle's property taxes continue to rise.

Bill Roop of Pope Road in Concord, a member of the Triangle Conservation Coalition, spoke of "very misleading, very inaccurate" representations of the Benfield five-lot plan. He said one common drive would be needed across the meadow, public access would be retained, and restrictions on building would be put in place. In addition, five houses would have fewer people than 26 units, and would use "less sewage, less pavement and less water," and the fallback plan would "put the Housing Authority on its own track," an observation Zinicola refuted by noting, "Any development on this land will have Town Meeting approval."

"Not everyone in this neighborhood objects to this purchase," said Debbie Bentley of Heald Road. She called the land "a wonderful secret jewel in our neighborhood." While there has been little development in the southwest corner of town, "We cannot expect the neighborhood to remain a precious protected enclave in a world of change. . . . Neighbors, this is a good deal!"

Townspeople speak out

While most speakers from the floor supported the proposal, Terry Herndon of Hillside Road called it "poorly planned and rushed" and pointed to lack of cooperation between boards. Alan Lehotsky, a member of the Housing Authority, countered, "There was a remarkable degree of cooperation between boards." He added, "You'll never find a perfect plan . . . the fact everyone's a little bit unhappy means this is a pretty good plan." (Laughter)

Nick D'Arbeloff of Russell Street worried about 40B. Since a developer needs only 25% of units to be affordable to bypass zoning restrictions, 600 units could be built to obtain the 150 affordable that Carlisle needs.

Barbara Pauplis of Estabrook Road questioned the size of the units. Paul Morrison replied that the town is limited in rent it can collect so "large, luxurious units would mean more money lost."

Dan Holzman of Blaisdell Drive brought the discussion to a close with an appeal to purchase Parcel A "not because some evil 40B developer will gobble up the town," but because affordable housing is needed for the elderly, young, and middle-income of Carlisle. "We haven't stepped up to the plate and built the housing," he said. "This is a great opportunity for the town to do the right thing."

Voting proceeds quickly

As the clock pushed 10:30 p.m., the moderator called for the vote. Motion 4 authorized the town to apply for federal and state grants. Motion 5 asked for $50,00 for the planning process. Motion 6 recognized the generosity and service of Ben Benfield. Motion 7 asked for $15,000 for administrative expenses of the CPAcom. All motions passed without further discussion.

Jack O'Conner guiding the audio at Town Meeting

2004 The Carlisle Mosquito