Friday, October 1, 2004
A questionable special permit
Upon reading Stephanie Hackbarth's coverage of the September 9 meeting of the Zoning Board of Appeals (BOA) in last week's newspaper, I was flabbergasted. Here was a former Carlisle resident/developer applying for a variance to build a new five-bedroom house on a non-conforming lot (1.3 acres with 150-foot frontage) at 1230 Westford Street. He informed the board that he would be tearing down the present small house and would build a larger house in the back of the property. A town bylaw limits an addition to a house on a nonconforming lot to be no more than 50% of the square footage of the existing, grandfathered house.
Albert Ira Gould, the applicant, stated that since he was building a new house, he didn't have to comply with the 50% rule. Asked by the board to provide them with the size of the house he was planning to tear down and the size of the house he was planning to build, Gould refused to share that information. Gould said he didn't know the square footage of the old house, and as for the house he was planning to build, he replied that the board was "entitled to their opinion, but I don't think I need to give you the square footage...I don't know what I will build." He refused to give more details and stated that he definitely would not agree to a 50% increase in the new house.
Gould's performance before the BOA was bad enough, but what was more disturbing was the fact that the board, in the absence of objection by abutters, decided unanimously to grant Gould a special permit to build a new two-story, five-bedroom house with attached garage on this undersized lot with inadequate frontage. Gould asked for a variance on the property, but instead the board granted him a special permit under zoning bylaw 6.3 (Extension of Non-Conforming Use), which prohibits an increase of floor space of a building on a non-conforming lot by more than 50%. If I am reading Carlisle zoning bylaws correctly, this decision was illegal and could be a first step in breaking our two-acre zoning, which was established in 1956.
On Monday night this decision by the BOA was discussed at a Planning Board meeting, where concerns were voiced as to whether the BOA was adhering to the provisions of the zoning bylaw. Since Gould's special permit was filed with the Town Clerk on September 23, any appeal must be filed within 20 days, by October 13. Town Counsel will now be consulted in order to understand what options are available to the town.
The BOA appears to have introduced the principle that if the neighbors don't object, the town's zoning bylaws can be ignored. But our bylaws protect the entire town, not just the immediate neighborhood. For the future of Carlisle, this ruling must be overturned.
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Who should lead?
As the presidential campaign enters its last lap, things seem to get sillier and more shrill by the day. Charges and countercharges abound on both sides of the aisle. One candidate is accused of exaggerating or even falsifying his war exploits, and the other is taken to task for not having any war record to exploit at all. Suspicions about forged documents are reminiscent of bad spy novels. Both candidates seem mired in what happened (or didn't happen) thirty-five years ago, but neither seems to have a clear plan for what to do tomorrow morning.
Running for president is a messy process, one that exposes all possible flaws, real or imagined, in any candidate. To be elected, contenders must appeal to the broadest range of potential voters while casting their opponents in the worst possible light, so it should come as no surprise that there's a fair amount of "spin control" on both sides. A message tailored to the business community ("less government, lower taxes") might not play so well to the inner city ("more government programs will solve our problems"), yet both candidates might take either position on a given day, depending upon the audience.
What do we make of all this? Who are we to trust? As voters, we're about to place a very big bet on the future of our country. Do we stick with the current administration, believing that we're fundamentally on the right course despite bumps in the road, or do we change leadership? Would a different president really be able to get different results? We know that the best of intentions can go horribly awry. (Remember when the Shah of Iran was replaced by the Ayatollah Khomeni?)
A few years ago, I attended a talk by George Bush (the elder) in which he described the fall of the Berlin Wall. He got calls from Georges Mitterand in France and Margaret Thatcher in Great Britain urging him to go to Berlin, stand on the rubble, and declare victory in the Cold War. But something told him this was not the right thing to do. "When I was a kid," he related, "one day I came home from a baseball game all excited. When my mother asked me who won, I couldn't wait to tell her all about my exploits on the field. 'That's very nice, dear,' she said, 'and how did the other team feel?'" This caught him up short, and he never forgot it. He did not go to Berlin.
Several years later at a meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev, Bush told him this story. "It's a good thing you didn't go," said the former Russian leader, "because if you had, we were prepared to respond in a dramatic way. The Soviet Union simply could not have let the West embarrass us in that manner." The point of Bush's story was that as president, the world looked a whole lot different from inside the Oval Office. He got plenty of advice and opinion from all sorts of respected experts, but at the end of the day, it was he, and he alone, who had to decide. All he really had to go on were his instincts (and his mother's admonitions!).
The upcoming election promises to be extremely close. If the 2000 election proved anything, it was that each vote does indeed matter. Democracy can be messy, confusing and frustrating at times. Still, we have the enormous privilege and responsibility of choosing our leaders. We should always bear in mind that they are real people, just like us.
Forum staff writers are elected by the board of directors of Carlisle Communications, Inc., publisher of the Mosquito, to provide independent commentary on matters they believe will be of interest to Carlisle citizens.
© 2004 The