Friday, October 22, 2004
Benfield Parcels B and C pass Conservation Commission hurdle
The Carlisle Conservation Commission (ConsCom) gave an enthusiastic endorsement to Northland Residential Corporation's general layout and specific access plans for Parcels B and C of the Benfield family properties off West and South Streets. These parcels account for 104 of the 178 acres contained in a base agreement between the family and the Carlisle Conservation Foundation (CCF) that placed a permanent Conservation Restriction (CR) on the total holdings this spring.
The tightly negotiated Benfield accord, and subsequent formal actions by the Carlisle Planning Board, established three new developable parcels with 46 acres of open space. The town was given the option, which it exercised at the Spring Town Meeting, to buy the 45-acre Parcel A for affordable housing, recreation and 24 acres of open space, a project that is already well into the planning stage. Parcels B and C were approved for five and four building envelopes, respectively, with all structures set back at least 300 feet from the two scenic town roads. Off-road access was limited to one common drive per parcel.
At the October 14 ConsCom meeting, Northland President Frank Stewart thanked the commission for its numerous site visits and input to the process and brought them up to date on the current status of the project. Reporting that "great progress has been made" in consultation with Fire Chief David Flannery and Deputy Chief Jonathan White, who had been concerned about vehicle turn-around design and efficient access to water resources, Stewart said he was seeking final Planning Board approval of specifications for the common driveways. In anticipation of success there and "eager to get to an end game," he was hoping for a ConsCom imprimatur that evening. Although ConsCom action is not to be signed and sealed until October 28, it appeared to be assured by the end of the presentation.
Stewart turned the stage over to Metro West engineer Rob Gemma who described "subtle changes" that had been made recently to plans for Parcel C. The paved entry to the driveway has been reduced from 24 feet to 15 feet. A proposed fire cistern has been relocated out of the 100-foot wetland buffer zone. Plans showed wooded, non-buildable "protective strips" surrounding each building envelope.
Noting that almost all of the negotiated features were located outside of the commission's area of jurisdiction, Commissioner John Lee did cite a history of problems the commission has encountered with "protective strips" in the past. Stewart jumped in to explain that these areas constituted a legal protection against possible "unappreciated" development by a neighbor, even a buyer purchasing two envelopes and clipping a portion to achieve a personal practice golf link. In other words, while environmental restrictions applied to the development as a whole, the owners are also protected from one another.
Commissioner Tom Brownrigg was curious as to how successive owners would be made aware of the exact boundaries of the non-buildable areas specified in the CR. Stewart's reply — "stone walls"- clearly reassured the commission. Conservation Administrator Sylvia Willard asked a final question before Gemma turned to the Parcel B proposal. "Has the vernal pool been certified yet?" Stewart answered in the negative but said the documentation was all in order and ConsCom could take it from there.
Plans for Parcel B had undergone more substantial changes as a result of negotiations with town departments. The amount of paved area has been reduced by narrowing the entry, eliminating a kidney cul-de-sac and replacing it with a T-turnout. Wetland disturbance has also been shaved by about 500 square feet by installing a fire pipe that reaches to the mid-point of the Benfield Pond and thence to a dry hydrant on the common drive.
Although ConsCom's conditions for a wetland replication area would normally require a 130 percent replacement of any wetland loss, Gemma proposed a 100 percent figure in order to reduce the amount of grading required. After study of large photographs taken across the wetland and the proposed replication area, the commissioners readily agreed to the suggestion. Answering a concern from abutter Joey Edsall that there might be excessive tree-cutting connected with construction of the common drive, Stewart said he and his colleagues had worked hard to maintain the streetscape and to develop the common drive as a passage surrounded by trees on all sides. He again stressed that the CR covering the entire property gives unusual protection and includes two trail easements that connect to existing town paths. In conclusion Stewart offered to assume the full cost of improving the trail and its connection points.
Agreeing that Northland "has raised the bar considerably for quality performance in development planning and cooperation," the commissioners predicted a favorable verdict on the application. However, they continued the public hearing to October 28 to give Willard time to draft conditions for construction of the replication area and, if all goes well, to take into account a final approval from the Planning Board on October 25.
© 2004 The