The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, June 3, 2005


ConsCom looks at Affordable Housing plan

At the May 26 Conservation Commission meeting, Louise Hara of the Affordable Housing Plan Task Force sounded out the commissioners on their initial reaction to a draft Affordable Housing Plan that could well impact land under their jurisdiction.

The proposal, which was first unveiled at the May 17 meeting of the Board of Selectmen, laid out a ten-year timetable for Carlisle to fulfill the state-imposed requirement that 10% of its housing stock be affordable, or that it approach that level by the addition of at least 0.75% per year of the required quota of affordable units, or 1.5% biennially. Then, and only then, can the town hold off state approval for construction of high-density 40B developments that are able to evade most local zoning by making 25% of their units affordable."Affordable" means purchasable by families earning 80% of the regional median income, or $80,600 for a family of four in the Boston area.

Hara framed the issue, "Discussions come down to how the town can control its future. If we don't take that control, we'll have little say about what happens to our land."

Plan suggests housing on conservation lands

The Task Force has scheduled a public hearing on June 16, eight days after the June 8 Town Meeting, that is expected to act on recommendations from the Benfield Task Force for multi-use development of Parcel A. The 0.75% annual goal for the first five years of the timetable should be realized from ongoing 40B private developments at Laurel Hollow, Carlisle Woods, and Concord Street and the availability of accessory apartments as approved at the May 23 Town Meeting, and finally by completion of the 26 units on the Benfield land. Years five to ten (2009 to 2014) would require purchase of prohibitively expensive parcels (currently running at approximately $500,000 per lot) or development of existing town-owned properties. Possibilities mentioned by Hara included the Conant Land, Gage Woodlot, Red Pine Tree Farm and/or the barn and several abutting acres on the Greenough Conservation Land, a parcel across from the Cranberry Bog House, and the Town Forest.

Since some town properties are classified as state-recognized conservation land and are therefore protected under Article 97 of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, any "change of use" on part or all of that acreage would require unanimous agreement by the Conservation Commission, approval by Town Meeting, positive action by the state legislature and identification of land of equal conservation value to be swapped for what had been lost. The possibility of a swap of the Conant Land for use of conservation land elsewhere was suggested. In view of the requirement for ConsCom to agree to any change of use, Hara was anxious to find out if they would be willing to consider any such conversion.

In making her appeal, Hara reminded the commission that in order to cut off further unwelcome 40B developments, the town must furnish the state with a concrete ten-year housing production plan, and submit it as soon as possible. The document must identify plots to be used in reaching the goal but does not require Town Meeting approval at this time. Assuming positive action on the Benfield units, the town has four years in which to reach consensus on how to proceed in the last five years of the timetable, overcome the legal hurdles, and be set to complete the process, probably through some higher-density, mixed-price construction that could help defray costs.

Keeping an open mind

Although not happy with the choices ahead, the commissioners indicated their intent to keep open minds. Like Hara herself they seemed ready to balance the threat that uncontrolled 40B projects pose to the quality of life in Carlisle against the tough realities required to hold them at bay. However, Commissioner Tom Brownrigg clearly spoke for all his colleagues when he indicated that their greatest fear was of setting a precedent that could encourage later attempts to raid conservation lands for far less pressing purposes. With a further warning that present commissioners could not necessarily speak for their successors , they thanked Hara for her preview of the Task Force proposal and assured her they would be present at the June 16 hearing.

2005 The Carlisle Mosquito