The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, January 21, 2005


Abutters express dismay, disbelief about 66-unit condo proposal

Last Wednesday, January 12, Marc O'Hagan and Bruce Wheeler of Habitech Development LLC heard strong criticisms of their preliminary plans for a 66-unit 40B condominium development on Concord Street, as they reviewed it with a group of about ten abutters from Palmer Way, Russell Street, Spencer Brook Lane and Concord Street.

Preliminary plans

Wheeler brought a sketch of the proposed development which showed approximately 17 buildings on the 23-acre site, between Palmer Way and Spencer Brook Lane. There will be a common water supply fed by several wells and the units will have shared septic systems.

The entire condo complex will be age-restricted, meaning that one resident in each unit must be at least 55 years old. O'Hagan guessed that selling prices for the market-rate units might be between $550 to $650K per unit, with the price for the "income-eligible" units (set by a state-defined formula) around $165K. "Typically" there are also restrictions on children under age 18 (or 21) residing in the units, he added. Seventeen of the units will be affordable.

Chapter 40B is a state law which permits higher density housing than allowed by local zoning regulations, as long as 25 % of the housing units qualify as affordable. A 40B development must meet all Title 5 regulations, state and federal wetland laws, and local Board of Health bylaws.

Plan is "astonishing"

The affordable housing aspect of the plan was not the target of the neighbors' comments. Indeed, the need for low-cost housing was acknowledged several times. Rather, the abutters focused on the buildings' effects on their environment — both the tangible effects of wells and septic systems and the psychological impact of a development without visual screening or setbacks replacing a woodland.

Michael Epstein of Spencer Brook Lane, former Planning Board chair, observed that this "apartment complex" would be the largest development ever built in Carlisle. It's "astonishing to me" and would "change the character of the town." Each unit would be about 2,000 to 2,500 square feet ("The developers haven't finalized the design") with 3 or 4 units in each of about seventeen 6,000- to 8,000-square-foot two-story buildings.

"Everyone understood [this land] would be developed [but] I don't think anyone envisioned this," Epstein said later. "It doesn't seem abutters were considered at all," said Jeff Dinardo of Palmer Way. "I didn't imagine it'd be this bad; it's six times more units than we could have imagined."

Strong language

Most abutters said they had moved to Carlisle for the open space and privacy valued by the town, and/or because it seemed "a good place for children." O'Hagan's and Wheeler's proposal would "destroy" their environment "for your [own] profit," several said. "Is making money all there is to life?" asked Joan Parker of Russell St.

A few used stronger terms, characterizing the proposed development as "raping the land," "destroying" their sense of privacy and open space and doing "great violence" to the land.

"Best use" of the land?

Neighbors asked repeatedly whether O'Hagan would consider building fewer units. In responding he implied that he needs to build a large number of units to maximize his profit from the development, which he defended as the "best use of the site." The conventional subdivision of eight to ten single family homes, permitted by Carlisle zoning bylaws, would not be sufficiently profitable given land and site development costs, he asserted.

Carlisle's existing senior housing bylaw would also not allow enough units, he added later in response to a reporter's question.

Loss of privacy

Abutters also lamented minimal setbacks from the property line, 15 to 25 feet for most buildings. The locations of abutters' homes were not shown on the plan O'Hagan presented, obscuring how close to existing homes most of the two-story buildings would actually be (in one case a total of 55 feet from a home). The lack of existing screening will also exacerbate their loss of privacy, several observed.

Water issues

Neighbors also expressed concern about the traffic and the runoff generated by an additional 120 cars, and apprehension that the 10,000 gallons flowing into several shared septic systems and the multiple wells that would provide a "community water supply" for the development could contaminate their own wells, or drain them dry.

O'Hagan's assurances that wells, septic, and setbacks from property will all have to be up to "environmental standards," and that the well testing required for a community water supply and the Title V approval process would be sufficient, did not alleviate abutters' anxieties. Walter Heithaus of Palmer Way told of having three wells drilled over the years, the most recent 1,000 feet deep.

Alex Parker of Russell Street disagreed with O'Hagan's claim that the process required to prove the wells will show any negative impact on abutters' wells. Carlisle's two- and four-acre zoning protects water supplies by restricting how much septic effluent is discharged per acre, but this development will generate far more than a single family development, Parker added.

Abutters also questioned whether the "no-build" radii the wells would require could be accommodated by the plan presented.

Next steps

O'Hagan told the abutters he and Wheeler will meet informally with Selectmen and members of the Planning Board this week, to get feedback about the proposal, then develop "detailed plans that incorporate everyone's concerns." They must apply to the Mass Housing Authority for the site approval required before seeking a comprehensive permit from Carlisle Board of Appeals.

"Are you really going to listen to the abutters?" one participant asked O'Hagan at the close of the meeting. "You can wait till the next meeting," O'Hagan replied.

2005 The Carlisle Mosquito