The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, February 11, 2005


Planning Board asks $20K for planning

Is Carlisle spending enough on planning to help manage future growth? Presenting a request to the FinCom for additional FY06 funding, the Planning Board on January 31 pointed to a lack of resources as the primary reason the town has no housing plan currently in place. Over the next months the board will be scrambling to draw up a plan so the town can respond to 40B applications, such as the 66-unit development proposed for Concord Street.

An approved Affordable Housing Plan is needed for the town to refuse unwanted development under the state's Chapter 40B law, which allows developers to bypass local zoning in order to bring affordable housing to towns with less than 10% affordable housing. With an Affordable Housing Plan and a permit to build at least 12 units of affordable housing, the town can earn a one-year deferral. If a plan is in place before permits are issued, the Concord Street development might be deferred, or at least counted toward the units of affordable housing the town must add each year to earn future deferrals.

Vice Chair David Freedman explained, "The Planning Board has not had adequate budget to do any planning." He said any planning done was the result of saving up line items over several years, applying for grants, or "doing it ourselves" without hiring expertise. The board is also very busy with day-to-day work; "We do permitting and applications and that's it." Added Chair Louise Hara, "We're tying pieces of shoelaces together . . . We've tried to keep in the small-town vein, and it's killing us."

Freedman said the board received $30,000 from the state for planning with no funds from the Carlisle coffers, and noted "other towns tripled that amount." He compared Carlisle's commitment to Concord's, where he says a committee met for three years with a budget of $100,000.

According to Freedman, a housing plan would typically be a joint effort of the Housing Authority, Municipal Planning Committee, Board of Selectmen, and Planning Board, but, "The Housing Authority is not geared up and Municipal Planning hasn't met for three or four years." The Planning Board "tried to do it on our own" but was hampered by not being able to get together with the Board of Selectmen. "Now [with the Concord Street 40B], everyone's interested in talking to us."

Hara noted the plan cannot be just a paper exercise. "We must have a realistic expectation of resources and what the town's willing to do." Added Freedman, "To meet the benchmarks [of building affordable housing] will cost tens of millions of dollars" and the question of how to finance that, through private-public partnerships or otherwise, has yet to be fully considered.

"We don't want it done so right it's not done quickly."

Interviewed later, Selectman Tim Hult said that the Housing Plan had been expected to be part of a larger Master Plan, and that timeliness had originally taken a back seat to "doing a really good job." That priority has now changed with the looming 40B. Now Hult says his response to Freedman's contention that, "We don't want this done so quickly it's not right," is "We don't want it done so right it's not done quickly."

Hult adds that money for planning inevitably gets more scrutiny because, "it's money for a plan, not a cop" or other obviously needed item. He admits there is a "natural tension between the Planning Board and other departments that are more short-term focused, but, "what's important now is to work together."

Freedman asked to have the planning budget raised to $20,000 in 2006, an $11,600 increase, "so the Planning Board can be a planning board." In addition, an affordable housing consultant must be hired soon at a cost of $10,000 to $15,000 for which there is no budget. It is hoped a housing plan can be in place within four months and approved before the Concord Street project goes forward.

FinCom member Ray Wilkes noted the three 40B developments currently in process will add one hundred residents and said, "the demand on infrastructure is significant and not something anyone's thought about." Planning Administrator George Mansfield said a master plan which looks at infrastructure is the responsibility of the Planning Board. Added Freedman, "We should be doing studies so other organizations can make decisions, and we haven't done that." While the board has previously generated static master plans, the plan should be an on-going part of the budget so it can be "kept alive" and updated as conditions change "or it's a worthless document."

FinCom Chair John Nock noted that "Li'l Old Carlisle . . . is reaching a departure point." Agreed Freedman, "We can plan or just let things happen, but letting things happen isn't working well for the community."

2005 The Carlisle Mosquito