Friday, November 19, 2004
We gather together
By any measure this has been a very divisive year. Nationally and locally we have been divided; red versus blue, liberal versus conservative, the list goes on. Since what divides us makes a more exciting story, we tend to overlook fine examples of people coming together, resolving or accepting their differences for the good of the whole community.
The very difficult reconfiguration of the Boston Catholic Archdiocese has played on the front pages of the Boston papers almost daily. Fortunately, most Carlisle Catholics have been spared the ordeal of church-closing as St. Irene parish, with a new church on East Street, has remained untouched. However, those who have found their spiritual home in the two parishes in Concord, St. Bernard's on Monument Square and Our Lady Help of Christians in West Concord, were not so fortunate. Last May, the dreaded letter arrived, announcing that both parishes would close in October and re-open as a new parish at the St. Bernard's site.
Although a transition team, including both pastors and parishioners from both churches, met regularly to work on the merger, closing a parish is a soul-shaking ordeal. Life-long parishioners have life-long bonds to their parish. In addition, the two parishes and their responses to the news could not have been more different. St. Bernard's, traditional and conservative, responded with quiet prayer, resignation and a slowly decreasing attendance at services. They had the comfort of retaining their building. In contrast, one-quarter to one-third of OLHC parishioners were relatively new members from outside parish boundaries, many very liberal Catholics who entertained 'progressive' ideas, such as welcoming gays and lesbians into the Church and ordaining a married or female clergy. In large part they had come for the OLHC pastor Father Austin Fleming, a very liberal priest who is very active in the Voice of the Faithful, the Catholic lay group opposed to the handling of the abuse and financial crises by the archdiocese. OLHC parishioners repeatedly appealed to Archbishop O'Malley to reverse his decision, and many threatened to leave the Catholic Church altogether if the plan were carried out.
Someone was listening. As the October closing date approached, the pastor for the new combined parish, named the Holy Family Parish, was announced: it was Father Fleming. St. Bernard's pastor, Father John Murray, was permitted to retire, as he had petitioned. He is 70.
"They said they wouldn't come," said Father Fleming with a smile in his first homily as he surveyed the overflowing church. They came.
There are issues in Carlisle that divide us...Benfield recreation fields, the school budget, wetlands protection. There are always valid positions on both sides. But if we listen and give a little we can come together.
The urgent need to reform 40B
In its pre-election issue, the Mosquito asked the candidates for their position "with regard to the anti-snob zoning law, Chapter 40B." All four candidates supported reforming 40B so that communities would have more control over their destinies.
Chapter 40B allows developers to ignore local zoning laws by building 25% of their units as "affordable" in cities and towns whose affordable housing stock represents less than 10% of the total. I always thought 40B was an idle threat in Carlisle, because economics and other site restrictions would make it difficult for developers to thus prosper. The Laurel Hollow project on Lowell Street changed that. What had formerly been a modest home on a beautiful four-acre lot has now become clear cut. It's an open wound on the body of Carlisle. I am told that the original developer has since sold the property to another developer, who, in turn, has also bailed and sold it to a third developer. What's next?
Last March at Town Meeting, Hal Sauer reminded us about the foresight we had in the 1960s to adopt two-acre zoning. Carlisle is a very special place. Two-acre zoning is what differentiates us from surrounding towns. Whenever you drive into Carlisle from any direction, you immediately become aware of the change in ambiance. It feels and looks different as soon as you cross the town line. Whenever I drive home on a hot summer's day, the temperature drops five to nine degrees as I approach Carlisle center. The fact that we are the least densely populated town in the region has resulted in unparalleled quality of life. Chapter 40B is conspiring to change all that.
Newcomers to Carlisle are primarily attracted by the quality of our schools, which are among the best in the state. New houses and resales are being purchased by families with kids, which increases the pressure to build additional classroom space. We currently have about 90 students per grade level in the Carlisle School. The Laurel Hollow and Benfield projects alone may add as many as 70 kids. The impact of this will be higher taxes. Higher taxes means lower home resale values. As interest rates rise, the resale value of our homes will continue to decline. As school expansion lags demand, the crowding of our classrooms will negatively impact the quality of education, making Carlisle less desirable in the eyes of prospective home buyers. When Carlisle wells start running dry or more septic systems start failing, it will be too late to reverse the damage. We'll then need "city" water and sewerage, at great expense to the homeowners and to the town. We'll be forced to accept commercial development to pay for infrastructure costs, and ultimately, we'll look just like many of our surrounding towns. Do you think this is far-fetched? It won't happen overnight; it may take 20 years, but it will happen. It's already happened everywhere around us. The key is to retain two-acre zoning.
The Romney administration has floated the idea that 40B should be applied on a "regional" basis, not town-by-town. If this were done, we could "pay" our fair share towards achieving a 10% affordable housing stock in the region, without ruining our fragile environment. Where is it written that each town in Massachusetts must look like every other town? Where's the diversity in that? We are definitely at a crossroads in Carlisle. I urge Representative Atkins and Senator Fargo to support a regional approach to developing affordable housing and to support maintaining the integrity of our zoning laws.
© 2004 The