Friday, June 25, 2004
Benfield Parcel A Task Force outlines the challenge
The eight members of the Benfield Parcel A Task Force assessed the challenge the town has given them at an organizational meeting on June 21. They have been charged to come up with a plan for development of approximately 19 acres of the 46-acre Benfield property, their only guidance being the Town Meeting vote that instructed them to include plans for "up to 26 units of affordable housing," areas for "active recreation" and provision for open space.
The committee comprises John Ballantine, representing the Board of Selectmen; Raymond Kubacki and Alan Carpenito, spokesmen for the South Street neighborhood; Russell Dion, community member at large, and four representatives of major town boards: Phyllis Zinicola of the Planning Board, Dan Holzman, Conservation Commission, Allen Deary, Recreation Commission, and Alan Lehotsky, Housing Authority.
Stated motivations for acceptance of the appointments ranged from, "I see this as a really exciting opportunity to come up with solutions to some [stubborn] town problems" (Ballantine) to, "I believe you can build affordable housing without having a bad impact on the neighborhood and environment (Holzman)" to "I'll do what I can to help abutters and neighbors who are not very happy with what has happened." (Carpenito) Possibly the most prophetic comment came from industrial park developer Dion, who expressed a strong interest in the process to be adopted by the committee because, "We don't have a single client to please, but a kaleidoscope of interests."
The wide-ranging discussion that followed the introductions to an audience of about a dozen appeared to bring basic agreement on what should be presented to the 2005 Town Meeting and some of the steps needed to get there. They should have a conceptual plan for siting of the three main elements specified in the Town Meeting vote, i.e. affordable housing, active recreation and open space. Both Dion and Ballantine emphasized that the plan should be based on a thorough understanding of the land itself, and should address the obvious infrastructure issues such as traffic, pedestrian safety, parking, sewage disposal, vistas, etc.
There was some consideration of the degree of detail required for the housing component, with Lehotsky warning about going into excessive detail but agreeing that it needed to be specific enough to allow for some cost estimates. There was general acceptance of a recommendation by Zinicola that the eventual plan allow for development in phases, with cost estimates assigned to each step.
A major portion of this initial session concerned a rough calendar of activities, plus attention to administrative requirements. Community Preservation Act Committee member Caren Ponty revealed that a goldmine of technical data already existed, including the results of soil testing, a sewage disposal recommendation from Metro West, a Resource Area Delineation of wetland lines approved by the Conservation Commission, a real estate appraisal, and an Environmental Side Effects study. Therefore the committee decided to acquaint themselves immediately with this documentation and voted to ask Metro West to join them at 7:30 p.m. on July 1 for a guided site tour of Parcel A, followed by a presentation of their data and recommendations at Town Hall.
Deary, who was already familiar with the material, felt that there was enough information available now to allow them to come up with a feasibility study by October and a conceptual design by Thanksgiving. If the committee is to be prepared to appear at the May Town Meeting, cost estimates would need to be available by February. March and April would then be devoted to meetings with town boards, tweaking or outright revision as indicated by these sessions, and finally, a series of public hearings.
Near the close of the meeting, Carpenito inquired as to why numerous proposals to locate recreational facilities on the Bisbee Land or Foss Farm don't move forward, while the siting of ball fields off South Street is taken as acceptable. "Aren't these residents as important as abutters of other properties?" he asked. Both Lehotsky and Ballantine answered that an issue of that type was not part of the Task Force's assignment. "It's an issue between town boards and should take place at that level," they declared. Recreation Commission chair Maureen Tarca concurred, telling the committee "Your job is to plan for five acres of land for active recreation. The RecCom can pursue other sites."
In consideration of the inevitable administrative load required to schedule, coordinate and maintain vital communications with other town bodies and the public, there was a unanimous vote to hire an administrative assistant. The Town Administrator would be so advised.
Ballantine accepted nomination and election to chair the group, and immediately recommended a rule to complete all meetings by 10 p.m. There was scant opposition.
© 2004 The