Friday, September 17, 2004
ConsCom gives Greenough cottage back to the Selectmen
The Carlisle Conservation Commission (ConsCom) made a unanimous decision September 9 to return responsibility for the decaying Greenough cottage, together with its basically sound barn, to the Board of Selectmen (BOS). Chair Roy Watson was authorized to draft a formal letter to that effect for final approval at the September 23 meeting. He was also asked to alert the board to the commission's intention. Although the official communication will include the background and legal rationale for the decision, the gist of the commission's thinking was obvious from the Thursday night discussion.
Watson introduced the topic by reminding his colleagues that under a formal agreement signed last March between Paul Booth and the commission, the former is due to vacate the premises by September 30. Booth has resided at the cottage as a non-paying caretaker/security presence since the death of John Windhol, the original caretaker for the Greenough family. The March agreement was promulgated to ensure security at the site pending resolution of the building's short-term and ultimate long-term fate.
The immediate crisis has been brought to a head by a confluence of factors: the geriatric furnace has failed, the porch has collapsed exposing the core structure to more rapid deterioration, and a new roof is clearly needed. However, before a Request for Proposal (RFP) can be issued to attract an in-kind tenant to renovate the house (possibly a la the Litchfield House project at Great Brook Farm State Park), the residence must have heat, be cleared of friable asbestos and be allotted start-up funds for reconstruction materials. Failing reasonable consensus between the commission and the BOS on the renovation project, a second option seriously discussed by the commission has been demolition, but this too would be expensive and would leave the barn and property as a whole open to vandalism or other nefarious activities.
Underlying the present dilemma in the eyes of the commission is the fact that, although ConsCom has had responsibility for managing the structures on the 242-acre conservation property, they have not been given a budget to maintain them. Also, under the Massachusetts constitution they are unable to tap the principal in the Conservation Fund for this purpose, although the subcommittee that has wrestled with the problem believes they could use the accrued interest to at least contribute to the required $30,000 start-up estimate.
At the Thursday session, Commissioner Tricia Smith, who has worked at crafting a viable RFP, indicated that she was close to the point of giving up on a ConsCom solution, while Watson stressed the "reality" that none of the commission's options appeared to be acceptable to the BOS. Prior to the Annual Town Meeting, Smith had met with that board and asked for inclusion of a Warrant Article to provide "seed money" so that an RFP could be floated to attract an in-kind tenant willing to reverse the decay over a five-year period in lieu of rent. This action, she said, would give the commission and ultimately the town time to work out a permanent solution. She was turned down on that count and on an alternative authorization to demolish the building.
Having been sent back to square one, the commission, as before, was faced with a complex set of issues that make any quick or easy approach impossible, namely: 1) Any "change of use" for conservation property requires not only unanimous assent from the local conservation commission but also a two-thirds vote of both houses of the state legislature. 2) The only public access road to the buildings is via a road from Billerica, although town vehicles have an easement from Maple Street, and 3) any of several long-term community-based approaches, such as leasing for organic or other specialized agriculture, affordable housing or a combination historical and educational nature or agriculture center, etc., would have to be adopted after public hearings, a Town Meeting vote and state approval.
At the Thursday session Watson pointed out that the commission has already put the town on notice that it should check its insurance policy because there is a liability attached to the premises, and the town has a limit on its coverage. Continuing his analysis Watson explained that under the March agreement, if the Town lives up to its terms (gets Booth out on the 30th or within 90 days thereof), they will terminate their liability as landlord. If they don't do so, they will, in his opinion, leave themselves open to legal problems in the future.
Since Booth's departure would leave the house and barn open to vandalism, Commissioner Diane Troppoli inquired about the feasibility of installing an alarm system, but Watson again warned that even with alarms and signs, the town could still be sued if some intruder were hurt there. Smith suggested the possibility that the Department of Public Works could use the barn for storage and so might secure it, but admitted that the buildings would continue to decline.
After an indication from Commissioner Tom Schultz that he was ready to turn the problem back to the Selectmen, Commissioner Tom Brownrigg observed that the group was still split, in that he felt that having roughed it for so long at the cottage, Booth could probably "survive" there. Still struggling with her decision, Smith finally joined Schultz, Watson and Peter Burn, saying, "If we had more support, I'd be willing to continue, but our parent group [the Selectmen] have been so dismissive of our efforts we have no recourse."
In the end, all six members present agreed to delegate to Watson the task of writing the official letter informing the BOS of their action. Once reviewed, it will be adopted at the next meeting.
© 2004 The