Friday, April 15, 2005
Planning Day groups favor Plan B by small margin
Benfield Community Planning Day attracted a veritable Who's Who of Carlisle town leaders, those folks (from Anderson to Zinicola) who always seem to show up when there is work to be done. Over 50 town residents filled the Clark Room of the Town Hall on Saturday morning, April 9, to attend a presentation given by the Benfield Task Force and to give their valued opinions. Although the result was far from conclusive, there was a perceptible shift in favor from Plan A (field in front and housing in back) to Plan B (both field and housing in back).
Conservation, housing and recreation
Chair John Ballantine kicked off the proceedings shortly after 9:00 a.m. while some of the local citizenry were still in the hallway enjoying muffins or pastries and pouring some coffee provided by Ferns Country Store. Ballantine introduced the eight members of the Task Force and reviewed the job at hand. The town acquired Benfield Parcel A on South Street after a vote at Town Meeting in March 2004. Of the 45 acres in Parcel A, 26 have been set aside for conservation and 19 are available for potential development, to include 26 community housing units and one active recreation field.
Plan A: the default plan
Ballantine noted that Plan A, the "default plan" presented at the March Special Town Meeting was to locate the field next to the road, but that the Task Force was formed to review all options and come up with one recommendation. At the Community Planning sessions on September 18 and October 3, many people were opposed to putting the field next to the road, so the Task Force is continuing to explore other options. However, if an alternate recommended site plan, such as Plan B, is not approved at Town Meeting by June 30, the site deed restrictions automatically revert to the default plan. To add to the complications, town counsel has advised that any alternate plan must pass by a two-thirds majority to be accepted.
Architect John Winslow of Winslow Design Associates, took the floor and displayed several large colorful maps showing the layout of Plan A and Plan B. "Plan A, with the field in front, allows the most flexibility with housing layout," said Winslow. He depicted a cluster of farmstyle buildings located at the end of a winding 1,700-foot driveway that connects to South Street at the existing entrance location (south end of field). "By farmstyle, I mean main house, shed, and barn-like structures containing 26 housing units," he explained. Winslow identified the central well water supply surrounded by a 225-foot radius circle of protected land and a 100-foot by 150-foot community septic system located under the conservation meadowland.
Winslow told everyone that the first time he walked the field abutting South Street, it appeared almost ready to set up two goals and play ball. However, further analysis revealed that the field has a 10-to-12-foot pitch that will need to be leveled. "It's not as flat as it first appears. The home team could always use the upper end, but the opposing team will probably demand a level playing field," he chuckled. The 180-foot by 300-foot field, with a 20-foot border, will require filling some 2,000 square feet of wetland. The nearest abutter is less than 50 feet away.
Plan B provides a community of housing around a commons with an adjacent playing field, and was estimated to cost an additional $135,000 in total development. The total cost of either plan has now swelled to over $7M, although partnering with Habitat for Humanity would reduce that somewhat. The housing in Plan B by necessity is more tightly clustered and the playing field will require some extensive tree removal and earthwork. Winslow displayed a side view of the field showing a 16-foot cut at the high end and 10 feet of fill at the opposite low end. A retaining wall is needed along the upper edge to support the driveway that runs above.
There are some advantages to Plan B. The driveway entrance/exit could be routed across the center of the South Street field to improve sight lines, which are limited with the existing exit. But it has been pointed out several times in the past that the existing sight lines are no worse than many other locations in town, such as the library and the Banta-Davis Land on Bedford Road. Irrigation of the playing field is cheaper with Plan B because of the nearby housing water supply. Also, the playing field will be 330 feet from the nearest existing abutter. Regarding proximity of the field to the 26 new housing units, Winslow said, "I know of some wonderful examples of land use management with a central field." Winslow acknowledged, in responding to a question from Ken Harte of Estabrook Road, that the playing field in Plan B would have to be built at the same time as the housing, while it could be delayed to some future date with Plan A.
Doug Harris, Deputy Tribal Preservation Officer of the Narragansett Tribe, rose from the audience to inform everyone once again that the Benfield site contains many manifestations of the culture of the original people who lived there. Harris, with help from Tim Fohl of South Street and others, has written a Survey Report of Indian Ceremonial Structures on Benfield Parcel "A" Property in Carlisle, Massachusetts in which he identifies in great detail dozens of stone structures and other features that were found on the Benfield site. "We ask that the town take steps to ensure that these ceremonial structures remain intact," he pleaded. The Task Force has hired an archeologist to study the site (Mosquito, April 1, 2005).
As in most meetings concerning the Benfield playing field, the subject comes up of the town-owned Foss Farm on Bedford Road as a more appropriate location. Recreation Commission (RecCom) Chair Maureen Tarca immediately put the subject to rest by stating that there are no immediate plans for Foss Farm, although it is being considered as an additional site. As far as RecCom is concerned, it is not an either/or situation, since both fields are needed. Ballantine closed the subject by saying, "Foss Farm is not part of today's discussion; we are only focusing on Benfield." With that, he divided the roomful of people into four breakout groups and sent them off to consider Plan A versus Plan B.
Caren Ponty of East Street chaired breakout group #1 and called upon Steve Hinton, a former member of the Conservation Commission (ConsCom), to kick off the discussion. Hinton strongly disagreed with Plan B's idea of splitting the South Street field with the access driveway. "It will ruin the field," he said, citing past experience where the resulting segments become neglected and overgrown. "Traffic speed should not affect the decision — that's a separate problem." He also questioned who will maintain the field if it's not used for active recreation. He liked the idea that with Plan A the development of the South Street field can be delayed to a later date. Heidi Harring of West Street agreed completely, and was concerned over the amount of tree-cutting needed with Plan B.
Gail Collins of South Street was emphatic in saying, "We don't want the ballfield at all!" She envisions cars parked along the narrow street during games and intolerable traffic congestion on the scenic roadway. Dave McKay of West Street feared that future safety concerns regarding Plan A's proximity to South Street might require an unsightly chain link fence around the entire playing field. Doug Harris tended to favor Plan A because it caused less destruction of the Indian ceremonial grounds than did the clearing of two acres for a playing field next to the housing site. Sylvia Willard, ConsCom's Conservation Administrator, prefers Plan A because it allows the housing area without playing field to be more shielded from the open meadow conservation land abutting Spencer Brook. Cindy Nock of Canterbury Court opted for Plan A, which would ensure that the South Street field would be maintained by RecCom. She also agreed that Plan A would be less disruptive to the Indian stones. The final vote of 5-3 in favor of Plan A was not a precursor, however, of opinions from the other three breakout groups.
Breakout group #2 favored Plan A and felt that the $135K difference in development cost was misleading because of the possibility of ledge removal required in Plan B. Architect John Winslow agreed to come up with a cost estimate, assuming up to 100% ledge, in time for the next Task Force meeting.
But then, surprise! Breakout group #3 voted 8-2 in favor of Plan B. They would split the South Street field with the driveway and provide parking in the field with a walking path back to the playing field/building complex. Jay Luby of Woodbine Road then reported that Group #4 also favored Plan B with central entry. A tally of total votes from the four groups gave a slight edge to Plan B, but any hope by the Task Force for consensus on the two opposing plans was abandoned.
Before the meeting broke up, Allan Carpenito of South Street asked to address the entire audience regarding abutters to the Benfield land. "Everyone on South Street is not against the affordable housing," he declared. "It is the ballfield that we oppose. It belongs in a more appropriate place." Carpenito said that he and his neighbors would be amenable to community garden plots or horse activities — any number of active recreational uses, "but not the ballfield."
Ballantine thanked everyone for attending and Tim Hult, chair of the Board of Selectmen, asked for a round of applause for the members of the Task Force who have done such a great job on the Benfield site development. Ballantine reminded Task Force members that they must present a final proposal to the Selectmen on April 26. Because time is running short, they agreed to meet again on Wednesday, April 13 at 7:00 p.m.
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