The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, July 30, 2004



No relief from 40B

The front-page story by reporter Priscilla Stevens summarizes the intensity of 40B development in surrounding towns. The lack of affordable housing is a major social and economic problem for Massachusetts, but an Avalon Bay-type "solution" can be a devastating burden for a small town.

While Carlisle has not yet been challenged by a large developer, the town's first 40B development — an eight-unit complex on a four-acre parcel of land at 302 Lowell Road — is currently under construction (see photo on page 5.) Because one quarter of the units will be affordable housing, the developer was able to bypass many of the town's building restrictions on setbacks, minimum acreage and density. The Lowell Street development will add two affordable housing units. While this is a start, it will bring Carlisle's total to only 20 affordable units, far short of the required 175, 10% of Carlisle's housing stock.

The purchase of the Benfield Parcel A by the town, offers the town the opportunity to build up to 26 units of affordable housing. When completed, the Benfield housing may buy us a year or two during which we can hold 40B developers at bay, but it will not protect Carlisle longer term.

Some have hoped that one of the 70 proposed bills to modify the 40B law will make the gorilla go away. Currently the Massachusetts Senate is considering a bill designed to provide a few "carrots" to accompany the 40B "stick." The proposed legislation would create regional smart-growth districts near mass transit stops, and offer financial incentives to communities building affordable housing in these zones. While this and other provisions make sense, they will be difficult to implement and will not protect communities like Carlisle from the threat of large 40B developers.

We need to support these legislative efforts, while looking for other opportunities to add affordable housing. Hopefully, the committees working to update the Open Space and Recreation Report and the Community Development Plan will suggest some next steps.

My friend John

John met his dire diagnosis last November with characteristic determination. To keep pace with his doctors, he learned all there is to know about his disease, the treatment alternatives, and his prospects for survival. Though what he learned furnished little room for optimism, he carried hope for more than seven months.

In the first several months, he achieved remarkable success. The tumors shrank steadily. Though he tired quickly on the days immediately following his chemotherapy, he nonetheless continued to work. He even kept his hair. By May, he planned to return to something approximating a normal work schedule.

For reasons no one can adequately explain, the chemotherapy stopped working in late April. The tumors began to grow again. Alternative chemotherapy recipes were no more efficacious, and in fact began to attack his healthy organs. The cure approached the toxicity of the disease. Despite the ravages to his body, and the potentially devastating implications to his prospects, John remained undaunted by the turn of events.

In short order, however, as each alternative approach proved unsuccessful, John, his wife and family, and his many friends, were forced to confront the inevitability of his imminent death. The confrontation caused John to resolve questions many of us imagine but never wrestle to the ground.

When I visited him a few days after he had decided to suspend aggressive treatment, he seemed remarkably at peace. I do not know — I cannot know — whether I could muster such calm and dignity in the face of death. Nor do I know how John did. All I do know is that, when the question is direct, personal, and immediate, it must take a special combination of courage and insight to decide to suspend life-sustaining treatment, and then to face the ensuing days with equanimity and even cheer. Paradoxically, I felt happier after spending time chatting with John during those first days than before I went to see him — he managed to cheer me up.

Inevitably, however, the cancer took over quickly thereafter, as we knew it would. Our visits over the next several days found John either asleep or unable to converse. Instead, we exchanged stories about John with other visitors and with members of his family. Those of us who knew John mainly through his work learned about the John his family members knew, and John's family learned about the John who had become a living legend among his colleagues. Through the combination of all the various stories, we constructed a mosaic none of us had seen during his life. Again paradoxically, it seemed that even those closest to him came to learn new things about him on the threshold of his passing, with the assistance of images taken through the eyes of others.

The end, when it came, was both swift and gentle — a rapid but steady fading away rather than a violent or fitful jolt. Because we had grown accustomed to its inevitability, John's death came as a relief by comparison to a prolonged state of unconscious but slow decline. But having watched him first fight with such determination, and then face death with such dignity, our sense of loss is heightened by the fully developed realization of what a remarkable man he was. I am better for having known him, and for having had the opportunity to learn from his example. But I miss my friend John already.


2004 The Carlisle Mosquito