Friday, March 26, 2004
Greenough house emergency forces long-range thinking
Concern about what is rapidly becoming an "untenable" situation at the little cottage on the town's Greenough Land led Carlisle Conservation Commission (ConsCom) chair Tricia Smith to convene a special March 18 meeting devoted to that problem alone. At the Commission's request, the Board of Selectmen are also including an Article in the Warrant for the Annual Town Meeting on May 10 that would provide as yet unspecified funding for repairs to the structure that is located on the Maple Street side of the 242-acre conservation parcel.
Smith stressed that ConsCom will request the money in order to jump-start a renovation process that could include donated labor and a combination of rent and in-kind construction work by a future tenant. The aim is to reverse active decay and preserve a potentially valuable town asset.
In a nutshell, the immediate problem is this: the furnace has failed, the porch has collapsed exposing the rest of the structure to serious deterioration, and a new roof is clearly needed. However, before a Request for Proposal (RFP) can be issued to attract a paying and working tenant, the cottage must have heat, be cleansed of friable asbestos, undergo a few minor interior upgrades and receive start-up money for initial materials.
The existing Greenough subcommittee has given serious consideration to demolition, but that too would be expensive and, as former commissioner Steve Hinton noted, would leave the remainder of the property, including the functional and winsome barn, fair game for intruders. The party who has been living in the house since the death of the former Greenough family caretaker has so far provided this surveillance.
Since, as Commissioner Tom Schultz insisted, the taxpayers will want to know what the town's long-term options for the property might be once the short-term objective has been realized, this became the topic for the remainder of the three-hour discussion. Subcommittee members reviewed a number of possibilities, most of which require further exploration or admittedly time-consuming legal processes, because state funding was involved in the town's 1973 purchase of the property.
Commissioner Roy Watson said he would like to see the town sell the lot to someone who would probably remove the cottage and build a home there, but would be required to maintain the barn and perhaps even the dam that holds back the flow of Pages Brook to form the 20-acre Greenough Pond. He indicated this would give the town funds that could be used for other purposes.
Commissioner Tom Brownrigg and others strongly opposed this approach, fearing that it might lead to further attempts to dispose of conservation land for cash. Also, it seemed highly unlikely that the state would approve such action without demanding that conservation land of equal value be acquired to replace it.
More agreeable to most commissioners was Watson's next suggestion that the town might turn the cottage and barn into Chapter 40B affordable housing, which Hinton noted could be done at a cost of about $25,000 per unit, since the town already owns the land. The town could then collect the rent as future revenue. This too would require the approval of the state legislature, but would be more likely to pass muster on Beacon Hill.
Agricultural, educational uses?
Smith admitted to viewing the entire Greenough site as "an historical and environmental treasure," replete wtih the values of an earlier, truly rural community. She felt this might well lead to future small-scale agricultural or educational uses for the property. Members were reminded of the Litchfield House at Great Brook Farm State Park which has been restored by in-kind tenants for just such present and future use.
Since one major limitation to any change of usage for this property is a lack of access to other than town vehicles or a dirt road from Billerica, Brownrigg suggested that the options available might be increased by negotiating an exchange of acreage between the town and the neighboring U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to provide access and/or parking. Again, time would be required to broker any such arrangement.
Repairs by Minuteman students
All commissioners agreed that none of these or other creative ideas could be entertained without the requested infusion of approximately $30,000. Once this funding is made available to remove the asbestos and pay for the materials required to complete the other mandated repairs, including the roof, Minuteman Technical High School has expressed an interest in having their students provide that work. According to Conservation Administrator Sylvia Willard, school representatives have looked at the project and "liked the scale of the job." It is a modest building, requires only a small roof, isn't too high and gives the students an opportunity to practice a number of skills.
With the cottage made minimally inhabitable, the RFP could be issued to allow the process of upgrading the bui—lding to continue, while giving the town an opportunity to explore and agree on a permanent remedy for a nagging headache. To make the potential RFP more attractive than one floated in 1999, the subcommittee has drafted a proposal that calls for an initial five-year lease with a probable five-year extension. The rental could start at a low figure plus specified in-kind labor and rise as the quality of the living space improves. That cash could purchase more building materials. Smith believes that the required de-leading could take place over the first three years of the lease, as long as no small children were in residence.
Request to Town Meeting
Such is the current thinking behind the funding request being finalized for presentation at Town Meeting. As summarized by Commissioner Peter Burn, whatever the decision on May 10 and at an inevitable future session on repair of the dam, it is going to cost the town money. "So the real question is this: what value do the citizens of Carlisle place on the Greenough property?"
© 2004 The