The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, February 4, 2005


Affordable Housing Plan urgently needed to stem 40B

There was a strong sense of urgency as the Board of Selectmen invited members of the Planning Board and the Housing Authority to their January 25 meeting at the Town Hall.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is dead serious when it seeks to prevent a brain drain of young or first-time buyers who might otherwise be forced to take jobs elsewhere to afford housing. In short, it wants to get more people into more good homes so that they can afford to live in Carlisle and work in Massachusetts.

The town needs to submit an Affordable Housing Plan immediately in order to get credit for recently proposed 40B housing and to gain precious time to pursue other strategies during a one-to-two-year moratorium.

Planning Board member David Freedman pulled no punches as he proceeded to scare everyone in the Clark Room with dire predictions of Carlisle's future. "It is no longer possible for Carlisle to remain as it has always been," said Freedman. "The question now is what steps we are willing to take, what compromises we will accept, to have some say in what Carlisle will become."

Chapter 40B is a state statute which permits developers to build higher density housing that allowed under local zoning bylaws if at least 25% of the units have long-term affordability restrictions. (See 40B facts)

The Planning Board sees 40B as a very inefficient way of achieving the mandated 10% affordable housing in town, or about 150 additional affordable units. Since only 25% of the housing units in a 40B project are affordable, the net increase in total housing units with 40Bs means the town would have to absorb about 600 new units, or four Laurel Hollows (8 units with 2 affordable on Lowell Street) and nine Concord Street 40Bs (66 units with 17 affordable). On the other hand, developments such as that proposed at the Benfield South Street site, which are 100% affordable, would obviously allow Carlisle to achieve the 10% threshold with only 150 new units.

Carlisle needs an Affordable Housing Plan

Freedman went on to say that achieving a "no 40B outcome" is impossible. Laurel Hollow is already permitted, and the only way to minimize the number of 40Bs is for the town to be proactive about affordable housing. This is where the Affordable Housing Plan comes in. "An Affordable Housing Plan should be the road map for the actions we need to undertake," said Freedman. Assisted at the meeting by Planning Board Chair Louise Hara and Administrator George Mansfield, he outlined the steps that they see on crafting an Affordable Housing Plan for Carlisle.

Some of the options that such a plan might include are (1) Approve the construction of 25 units of affordable housing on the Benfield land. (2) Zone the town center as a "Smart Growth" location for affordable housing, due to its proximity to town services, sparse as they might be. (3) Review all town-owned lands as potential sites for affordable housing, including parcels currently under conservation restrictions or reserved for schools or recreation. (4) Review the underlying assumptions of two-acre zoning and its unintended consequences (large homes with large lawns and long, paved driveways). (5) Promote and expand opportunities for accessory apartments and conversions of single-family into multi-family homes. (6) Increase the Community Preservation Act surcharge to from the current 2% to 3%, and seriously consider a transfer tax on real estate transactions to help mitigate the land-planning control it loses as land values escalate. (7) Make planning an ongoing process.

Freedman and the Planning Board believe that the town must change from protecting each parcel at all costs against development (each parcel with its own supporting interest group, led by abutters) to what is the best way to manage the town's assets as a whole in order to direct growth most effectively for the overall environmental and social health of the town. "The Board of Selectmen must provide the leadership - strong unwavering support of the compromises and financial sacrifices that we all must share is critical to success," Freedman emphasized.

The need for action was not lost on the Selectmen and Chair Tim Hult asked Freedman for a recommended plan of action. Freedman recently talked with Elisabeth Krautscheid, Associate Director for Technical Assistance, Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) and believes he knows exactly what needs to be done. First, file an Affordable Housing Plan. It doesn't have to be formally approved by Town Meeting, but it does have to be specific with regard to time frame (year by year), production of units (0.75% of housing stock = 12 units), and include at least one of four possible housing strategies (1) Areas where land use regulations will be modified, (2) Sites where comprehensive permits will be welcomed, (3) Preferred characteristics of development, and/or (4) Municipally owned sites for affordable housing.

DHDC will try to respond in 45 days as to whether or not the plan is complete. If it is complete and then approved (within 90 days of filing), then the original filing date becomes the effective date of the plan. Housing permitted after that date can count towards the % thresholds. If a plan is deemed incomplete, it is returned for completion. The refiling date would then become the effective date. After plan approval, the town can apply to DHCD for certification when comprehensive permits are granted for affordable housing totaling at least .75% of housing stock annually. Being certified allows a town to deny a Comprehensive Permit, but does not allow a town to not accept an application.

Make no mistake — an Affordable Housing Plan containing vague and grandiose promises will not make it past the DHDC, says Freedman. An approved plan should express a community's vision, and good faith efforts to achieve that plan that carry some weight. But the only assurance comes from certification. "For that reason, we should be careful about what we include in our plan," said Freedman. "It can become a blueprint for what developers propose."

Moving ahead

It's too late to get credit for Laurel Hollow, but there's still a chance to get credit for Concord Street. The Selectmen will immediately seek to replace the two planning consultants who failed to complete the Affordable Housing Plan last year. Town Administrator Madonna McKenzie will solicit bids over the phone (under $10K) and hopes to keep costs down by salvaging some of the work already done. As soon as the plan is completed, it will be submitted to the Board of Selectmen for approval and then sent to the DHCD immediately without Town Meeting approval. Housing Authority member Jack Bromley warned the Selectmen that developers such as Habitech (Concord Street 40B) are knowledgeable and well-prepared to rapidly proceed with their plans — do not underestimate how quickly they will advance through the approval process. The Selectmen really didn't need any more prodding to emphasize the sense of urgency. The future growth of Carlisle is at stake and the clock is ticking.

2005 The Carlisle Mosquito