The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, September 24, 2004


Residents review Benfield Land development options

The remnants of Hurricane Ivan were no match for the intrepid citizenry of Carlisle as they filled the Clark Room of the Town Hall for the Benfield Task Force Planning Day. As a reward for braving the storm, participants were greeted in the lobby by a table filled with delicacies from Ferns Country Store, including coffee, bagels, muffins, pastries and king-sized cookies. Suitably dried off and fed, over 50 townspeople sat down on Saturday, September 18, for three hours of learning and feedback regarding site development of the town's recently acquired Benfield Parcel A property.

Chair of the Benfield Planning Task Force John Ballantine kicked off the meeting by introducing all of the members of the eight-person Task Force and then asked everyone in the room to introduce themselves, thus creating a friendly and intimate setting. He then proceeded with a quick overview of what was ahead: "An hour of presentations, an hour of breakout sessions, and then a report-back briefing of the results." Ballantine described the task ahead — to create a master plan for the development of the Benfield Parcel A land acquisition approved at the Special Town Meeting in March. Of the 45 acres in Parcel A, 26 acres will be set aside for conservation and 19 acres will be used for up to 26 affordable housing units and one active recreation field. The goal is to present a master development plan for the property to be voted on at the Spring Town Meeting of 2005.

Site overview

Task Force member Russell Dion followed Ballantine with a site overview. Using a large map of the property with important features highlighted in color, Dion identified the wetlands, buffer zones, topography, ledge, public water supply, roadway, parking and building envelopes. Responding to questions from the audience, he explained that the proposed single public water supply, located in a 450-foot diameter protected land area on the eastern end, would remain forested and almost invisible to residents on Fifty Acre Way. The 1,700-foot driveway will begin at the existing entrance on South Street and wend its way around wetlands to the proposed housing site, skirting a section of ledge to maintain the grade below six percent. A common septic system (not a water treatment plant) might be located below the housing complex and probably south of the stone wall under the conservation restricted field.

Four versions of housing

Dion laid out four different housing arrangements for the breakout groups to evaluate. The first would be a row of 13 cookie-cutter one-story duplexes, each building with 2,000 square feet of living space (1,010 sq. ft. per living unit). These could be combined into seven two-story buildings, each with four 1,010 square foot units, to provide a second alternative. A third possibility could be a mixture of 1, 2, 3 or 4-unit buildings in an apartment village. It was the fourth proposal that tweaked everyone's imagination — "an assemblage of farm buildings" as Dion described them — agricultural townhouses surrounding a central driveway loop. Presumably, one could choose to live in a barn, a farmhouse, or even a chicken coop (albeit with heat and indoor plumbing).

Eligibility for housing

Phyllis Zinicola did an admirable job in explaining the complex legal aspects of 40B development, affordable housing, qualifying income and occupant restrictions. This prompted numerous questions about median income for the area ($80K), Carlisle preference in a lottery (70%), who qualifies for Carlisle preference (former resident, children or parents of resident, town employees), average sale price per unit ($160,000), ownership (town owns land, resident owns or rents unit), taxes (based on true market value assessment) and maintenance costs (paid by resident). This prompted even more questions on Carlisle's 40B obligations, all handled with ease by Zinicola, until Ballantine, eying the clock, shifted the presentation to the next topic on the agenda, active recreation.

The ballfield

Allen Deary, the Task Force representative from the Recreation Commission (RecCom), made his case for an active recreation field on the Benfield Land. Currently, Carlisle has three ball fields on Spalding Field — one Little League, one softball, and one 90-foot baseball diamond. There are also open fields for soccer and field hockey, but the fields overlap so all can't be used at the same time. Banta-Davis has a Little League baseball field, a softball diamond, and one soccer and field hockey field, with two locations for added fields. Counter this with the demand from literally hundreds of kids and adults for T-ball, Little League, Babe Ruth, and Legion baseball, 300 kids from Carlisle and Concord who want to play softball, and hundreds more looking for a place to play soccer and field hockey and you have some idea of RecCom's dilemma. "What's driving this tremendous need for fields?" said Deary, anticipating the question. "An 11% increase in population over the past 12 years, 50% growth in the existing programs in the past three to five years, increase in women's programs, emergence of intra-town programs, and programs that run multiple seasons, such as soccer, baseball and softball running spring, summer and fall." He also stressed the need for fields to be periodically rested so that they don't turn into gravel pits and endanger the players.

Deary demonstrated with cutouts that a baseball or softball field won't easily fit on the Benfield property open space on South Street. A more likely candidate would be a multi-purpose soccer (two small soccer fields side-by-side or one big one), field hockey and lacrosse field. Such a 100-yard by 65-yard footprint could also accommodate flag football, practice or pickup and leisure games. A question arose in the audience as to whether the playing field will be fertilized in an environmentally safe manner, to which RecCom Chair Maureen Tarca replied, "We're looking into more organic treatments for all our fields." Deary also assured another concerned abutter that, "Unlike a baseball field with a backstop, fence and bases, a multipurpose field would resemble a vacant lot when not in use." He stressed the need for an unobtrusive building nearby to store the soccer nets and other paraphernalia.

Neighborhood concerns

Neighborhood representative Ray Kubacki presented a balanced and reasonable case for the local residents and abutters. Foremost in his mind were the implications of traffic and parking. The aesthetics of converting an agricultural field into a local sports mecca, while at the same time hosting a small community of affordable housing, also headed the abutters' concerns. Kubacki worried about the issue of ownership versus rental of the units and the cost implications to the town of supporting such a development.

Since these were the very issues that Ballantine hoped would be discussed in the breakout session, the room was divided randomly into five groups and sent off to spend the next hour providing all-important feedback to the Task Force. Prior to their departure, the voice of Fontaine Richardson of Skelton Road boomed over the crowd, "The town owes a debt of gratitude to the members of the Task Force," and enthusiastic applause from the audience reinforced his pronouncement.

Breakout groups discuss options

Architects Peter Stuart of School Street and Peter Lacasse from the Town of Acton presided over breakout group #1. The discussion immediately focused on the alternative of locating the playing field next to the housing site and hidden from South Street. Allan Carpenito of South Street was particularly concerned about the playing field since his property abuts the site. "I'm against a ballfield located next to housing," he said. "It's a disaster, with kids running around and cars parked everywhere." He fears the field will be used from dawn to dusk all week and on weekends — non-stop noise and commotion — an abutter's nightmare. Instead, Carpenito would like to see "a meeting space built into the housing complex to draw the town into the new community — a place for Scout meetings, seniors, etc. Then you wouldn't need a field." Lacasse predicted that even if a playing field were located near the housing site, pressure would eventually build over the years to use the empty South Street field for more sports.

The group was united in their preference for ownership over rental of the affordable housing. Residents with personal funds invested in their home are more likely to respect and maintain them. "Pride of ownership," agreed Tim Hult of Audubon Lane. Zinicola saw a negative side to ownership with respect to the legal restrictions on resale. "They can't sell for market price. They won't benefit from the appreciation and can't build a nest egg." She also pointed out that an owner can't rent the property to someone else and can't get a second mortgage. Also, most residents in Carlisle would not be able to apply for ownership because their assets are too high.

Upon everyone's return to the Clark Room, Nancy Pierce of Westford Street spoke for breakout group #5. They liked the proposed housing location and preferred to have the playing field away from the housing complex and next to South Street. Ralph Anderson of Baldwin Road had an interesting idea — investigate the possibility of adopting the Habitat for Humanity model by using volunteer labor to provide low-cost construction. He cited recent success with three duplex houses in Lowell and another presently underway in Concord. Pierce also reported some concern in their group over the "grayness area of protection from future 40B developments." She would like to see a long-term plan for 40B projects in Carlisle.

Dave Trask of Log Hill Road, spokesman for breakout group #3, had concern over the impact of the playing field on traffic and especially the dangerous South Street-West Street intersection. His group would like to see walking trails on the property integrated into the town's extensive trail network. They favored the farm-style buildings and would like to see a recreation and function room built into the complex. There was a strong resistance to the town's subsidizing any of the operating costs of the affordable housing units.

Spokesman for breakout group #2, architect Scott Simpson of Judy Farm Road, also favored the farm-like aspect of the proposed building site and his group had concerns similar to group #3 about handling the additional traffic and parking.

Breakout group #4 was the last to report and spokesman Steve Pearlman of Baldwin Road came out strongly in favor of the South Street location for the playing field rather than back near the housing site. "It's less aesthetically objectionable," said Pearlman. "It's much cheaper. The field already exists; there are few trees to cut." He also pointed out that the field's proximity to the road makes it easier for the police to occasionally drive by and check things out. All objects (nets, etc.) can be removed during the off season and it becomes an empty field again. Pearlman hoped that RecCom could schedule games so as to not conflict with rush hour and maybe some form of traffic calming could be installed. Group #4 also favored the farm-like design and inclusion of a community room usable by all.

The wall clock showed two minutes before noon, an admirable feat of organization and timing. As the rain continued to fall outside, Ballantine thanked everyone for coming. "We'll meet here again for the next Planning Day on Sunday, October 3," he said as folks raised their umbrellas and grabbed one last cookie before heading out into the storm.

Second planning day Sunday, Oct. 3

For those unable to attend Saturday's Planning Day, or who find Saturday meetings inconvenient, the Benfield Task Force has scheduled a second Planning Day on Sunday, October 3 from 10 a.m. to noon. The agenda will be essentially the same, with a presentation by the Task Force and then feedback sessions among the attendees. Ballantine plans to invite several architects to provide professional insight into the proposed affordable housing complex and active recreation field.

2004 The Carlisle Mosquito