The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, September 3, 2004


Benfield Task Force asks help from community, consultants

Through the dog days of August the Benfield Planning Task Force, the committee planning the development of the town-owned Benfield property on South Street, has continued to meet and make progress toward their goal of presenting a site plan and housing design at Spring 2005 Town Meeting. Interim milestones are two Community Planning Days scheduled by the Task Force for Saturday September 18 and Saturday October 2, both 9 a.m. until noon at Town Hall. Carlisle citizens will be invited to give their input on what the project should look like going forward.

List of issues

The Committee has developed a list of issues to focus the scope of what the committee should look at. Committee member Russ Dion noted the issues fell into five categories:

1. issues to be referred to a housing consultant

2. problems for engineers

3. design issues

4. budgetary issues

5. neighborhood issues.

Community Planning Day

Design and neighborhood issues will be the primary discussion topics at the community planning days scheduled for September 18 and October 2. To facilitate the design discussion, Dion suggested each committee member collect pictures of housing both liked and disliked to begin to get an "aesthetic feel" for what the community wants. Other discussion topics will include front and back field impacts and recreation uses (football? lacrosse?). Cost estimates for granite curbing and for burying utilities will be presented to let townspeople decide if these are worth it. In addition to the community days, a separate meeting will be held for the neighborhood to discuss issues such as traffic, curbing, and site impacts.

Housing Mix

Determining the correct mix of units by size is an outstanding issue. Alan Lehotsky reported the results of research on the affordable housing need in various towns. In Acton the greatest need is for 3-bedroom units, in Bedford the demand is for 2-bedroom, and in Concord the greatest demand is for 2- or 1-bedroom. There was little demand for 4-bedroom units. Although results were mixed, he felt "the sweet spot is two, and we should do something on the outliers." There also is a high demand for housing for the disabled.

A lottery system assigns needy families based on household size and other factors, with costs set according to unit size. John Ballantine presented a spreadsheet analyzing the cost/revenue of various options for owned units. The spreadsheet indicated the town's deficit on the affordable housing shrank from $377K to $187K when the mix included more 3-bedroom units as opposed to all 2-bedroom. However, it was pointed out that other factors, such as market demand and state grants,

could change the picture. In addition it is an open question what the mix should be between rental units versus owned. The committee concluded a consultant familiar with state affordable housing programs should be hired to advise.

Sticky issues

One sticky issue is the request by the fire chief for a second method of egress from the development. Due to wetlands, siting of the road will be difficult. Another potential problem involves the presence of stones on the property that were at one time used by Narragansett Indians. It has been determined the stones are not a burial ground and it appears unlikely the state would force the town to halt development.

Consultants needed

The committee decided three consultants would be needed to move the project forward:

1. a housing consultant to help determine the mix and size of the development and whether units should be rental versus owner,

2. an architect to do a basic design and develop cost estimates, and

3. a traffic engineer to look at the impacts on South Street and to determine what should be done about dangerous intersections at West Street and at Concord Road.

State laws for hiring on projects over $5,000 require posting RFQs (requests for qualifications) to a central registry, a process that will delay getting anyone hired till at least mid-October. Noting getting the consultants on board is on the critical path, the committee took time from the August 31 meeting to draft the three RFQs.

2004 The Carlisle Mosquito