The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, July 30, 2004


Task Force begins planning Parcel A housing and recreation

Boston may have been essentially shut down by the Democratic National Convention, but work by the Benfield Parcel A Task Force continues here in Carlisle. Even though many of our neighbors and friends have taken off for a summer break at the Cape or along the Maine coast, every single member of the eight-member task force showed up at the Town Hall for their July 27 meeting. Chair John Ballantine opened the meeting by reviewing the job ahead and thanking everyone for their attendance.

The challenge

The Task Force has been given the challenge of creating a plan for the development of approximately 19 acres of the 46-acre Benfield property. Their only guidance is the vote at Town Meeting that called for plans to build up to 26 units of affordable housing, create areas for active recreation, and to leave the remainder for open space. The committee is composed of Selectman John Ballantine, South Street representatives Raymond Kubacki and Alan Carpenito, member-at-large Russell Dion, Planning Board representative Phyllis Zinicola, Dan Holzman representing the Conservation Commission (ConsCom), Allen Deary of the Recreation Commission (RecCom) and Alan Lehotsky from the Housing Authority. To have them all defer vacations to attend a mid-summer meeting is an indication of their commitment to have a final plan in place by May Town Meeting.

Ballantine began the meeting by reviewing the background of Carlisle's efforts to evaluate the land needs of the town. The Municipal Land Committee (MLC) was formed in 1997 at the Spring Town Meeting and is comprised of representatives of all the town's boards and committees. It has proceeded to determine the land needs of Carlisle, what properties might be acquired and uncovered various methods for financing. The MLC has grown into its name and become the town's in-house expert on land use needs in town. The acquisition of the Benfield land is a direct result of this long range planning and the demand for both affordable housing and active recreation tops the list of the MLC's most urgent needs.

Possinle housing location

Member Russell Dion had done his homework and arrived at Tuesday's meeting laden down with maps and drawings of the Benfield property, which he proceeded to spread out on the head table of the Clark Room for all to see. A guided site tour the previous week, which included a representative from Metro West, gave everyone the insight needed to understand the layout of Parcel A. Aided by topographical maps provided by Metro West, Dion described several scenarios for affordable housing that drew praise from other members. He envisions a 1,500-foot-long access road starting at the present field entrance on South Street and winding around some wetland to a wooded area hidden back from the main road. This is where a cluster of housing could be located, with all water obtained from a nearby 450-feet-diameter protected land area. A 100-foot by 85-foot common leach field would be placed somewhere between the housing complex and the lower elevation Spencer Brook open space.

Housing style

Dion described three possible arrangements for the affordable housing. The first would have single housing units, each with two bedrooms and approximately 1,000 square feet of living space. The second scenario attempted to reduce the sprawl by combining the housing into duplex units, one above the other. The third proposal received the most attention as Dion proposed a mixture of housing similar to a complex of farm buildings. "There would be single units, duplexes, and larger barn-like structures along the lines of the This Old House style on Concord Street," said Dion. It might even include a recreation or meeting room, which prompted Maureen Tarca, chair of RecCom, to exclaim, "That's a cute idea!"

Recreation needs

The meeting was then turned over to Tarca, who provided a detailed picture of the town's active recreational needs, the past frustration of trying to use Foss Farm and other open space for such purposes, and the strong need for active recreation on the Benfield property. She also explained that one important factor that's rarely identified is the need to periodically "rest" the athletic fields to avoid their being trampled to death. "Carlisle presently has such intensive use of existing fields that we can't afford to 'rest' any of them," she said. "We also rely heavily on the use of Concord fields," added member Allen Deary, citing the dismay of soccer parents who must drive the kids back and forth. Phyllis Zinicola reminded members that "we only have allowance for one playing field on the Benfield property."

The rec field location puzzle

Dion brought along some puzzle-piece cutouts of a 60-foot (basepath) adult baseball field, 100-yard football field, side by side 48-yard by 68-yard soccer fields, and a kids 60-foot (basepath) baseball field. Members moved the puzzle pieces around the topographical maps and found to their surprise how much space even a youth-sized baseball field requires. One puzzle-piece that fits nicely into the open field on South Street is a combination soccer/lacrosse/field hockey complex. Another tempting possibility might be to put a playing field next to the housing complex.

This latter idea gained some enthusiasm, especially when combined with the "farm complex" scenario that features a large central road loop. Perhaps there might be room for a nearby multi-purpose playing field along the same idea as housing built around a golf course. Tarca dreamed of a recreation center built into the same complex of buildings. Member Dan Holzman observed that, "A playing field included in the original plan is far easier than trying to convince residents to add one later." However, he warned about the parking and traffic problems such a field would create — while "the field along South Street is a no-brainer." All agreed that playing fields are not nearly as flexible to locate as housing, which can be moved around like blocks.

Next meeting

There's a lot of work to be done, but the Task Force hopes to complete its feasibility study by October and have a conceptual design by Thanksgiving. The group apparently has no plans for a summer vacation. The next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, August 3, at which time member Alan Lehotsky will present his plans for the housing program and mix.

2004 The Carlisle Mosquito