Friday, October 8, 2004
Benfield Land Planning Day II: Whither the ballfield?
The First Religious Society church bell struck ten as it called the flock to Sunday morning worship, but some folks in Carlisle flocked instead to the Town Hall to participate in Planning Day II. Coffee and pastries from Ferns Country Store provided sustenance and the Benfield Task Force promised salvation in the form of affordable housing and active recreation. For those who missed Planning Day I on Saturday, September 18, here was a second chance to get in on the fun and provide valuable feedback to the intrepid Task Force.
Chair John Ballantine began the October 3 Planning Day II presentation by asking all people in the room to introduce themselves and then proceeded with a quick overview of the two-and-a-half hour meeting. The Benfield Task Force was chartered to create a master plan for the development of the Benfield Parcel A land acquisition approved at this spring's Special Town Meeting. 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 Annual Town Meeting next spring.
Task Force member Russell Dion gave a site overview, using a large map of the property with important features such as the site of the 26 affordable housing units highlighted in color. A single public water supply to support 52 bedrooms will be located in a 450-foot diameter protected land area on the eastern end of the property and a common septic system (not a water treatment plant) might be located under the conservation land next to the housing complex. A 1700-foot driveway connects South Street to the proposed housing site, which would support one of four different housing arrangements. Dion displayed a map overlay showing a string of 13 cookie-cutter one-story duplexes, seven two-story duplexes of four units each, a mixture of one, two, three or four-unit buildings in an apartment village and finally, an assemblage of "farm buildings/ agricultural townhouses" surrounding a central driveway loop.
RecCom: ballfield needed
Allen Deary, the Task Force representative from the Recreation Commission (RecCom), made his case once again for an active recreation field on the Benfield land. Wearing a baseball cap and arriving fresh from his Sunday morning game, Deary described Carlisle's meager offering of three ball fields on Spalding — 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. Compare this with 1300 kids from Carlisle and Concord who want to play T-ball, Little League, Babe Ruth, and Legion baseball, 300 hoping for softball, and 900 looking for a place to play soccer and field hockey and you have some idea of RecCom's need for more active recreation sites.
Deary demonstrated with cutouts that a multi-purpose soccer, field hockey and lacrosse field would fit nicely in the Benfield meadow bordering South Street. Such a 100-yard by 65-yard footprint could also accommodate flag football, practice or pickup and leisure games. However, neighborhood representative Ray Kubacki countered Deary's dream of a sports Mecca with vivid descriptions of a traffic and parking nightmare for South Street residents and abutters. The stage was thus set for those in the audience to separate into two breakout groups to provide all-important feedback to the eight members of the Task Force.
Breakout session feedback
An interesting pattern emerged from both Planning Day forums in that most of the controversy is centered on the playing field while the affordable housing remains relatively unchallenged in the background. This could be attributed to the highly visible playing field location on South Street, while the affordable housing is tucked back in the woods out of sight to passersby. But there is far more to the issue than roadside vista, as Gordon Munson of Wildwood Drive explained. "I've known Mr. Benfield for 40 years and I know that he would not want a ballfield so close to abutters." Munson believes that additional traffic will require widening the narrow winding street, which will only encourage the drivers to go faster. "I'm not against affordable housing, but the ballfield is a real problem." He asked whether use of the field might be limited, which brought forth the overwhelming response, "If you build it, they will come!"
Ray Kubacki of South Street expressed sorrow, saying "You're thinking of putting a playing field 40 feet from the house of a 90-year-old woman who has lived there all her life. Why desecrate this beautiful street when there are two huge fields with no abutters on Foss Farm." While the Foss Farm site was suggested several times instead of South Street, RecCom still views it as a possible playing field location in addition to the Benfield property.
Any mention of placing the playing field away from South Street and next to the affordable housing site met with opposition from Ken Harte of Estabrook Road. "It's completely impractical to put a ballfield in the middle of the woods," he said. "It requires needless tree clearing and the affordable housing gets pushed aside." Harte suggested that a recreation zone be established on the Benfield property for a possible future field, thus postponing immediate action on the controversial roadside location. "I don't see a traffic problem — I see a parking problem," said Harte. This struck a chord with Karen Rigg of South Street who forsees cars parked along South Street and the danger to kids being dropped off on the narrow roadway. Allan Carpenito did some quick arithmetic. "Two soccer games, each with 10 kids on a side, plus coaches and parents — all those cars and it's safe to say there won't be a lot of carpooling." Plans call for 26 parking spaces off the street, but it's easy to believe that hurried parents will just park their SUVs in the bushes along the highway.
The main topic of discussion regarding affordable housing centered on renting vs. buying. The neighbors prefer buying, mainly because pride of ownership will result in better maintenance and upkeep. Others, like Harte, see an advantage to renting. "It's easier to keep affordable if rental," he reasoned. "Maybe a mixture of ownership and rental is the solution." There was a lot of interest in the farm building arrangement, and many believe that a room for community activities would be a nice addition. But for the most part, affordable housing was a non-issue. Discussion quickly returned to "that playing field" and its commotion, disruption, and threat to Carlisle's tranquility and way of life.
In the end, the two Planning Days were a great success and the Benfield Task Force received all the feedback they so earnestly sought, but their marching orders certainly don't include "Play ball!"
© 2004 The