The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, June 3, 2005

News

Town to discuss draft of Affordable Housing Plan on June 16

Carlisle has developed affordable housing plans in the past, but the Affordable Housing Plan Task Force that has been working with a consultant since late March has a stricter mandate: to produce a credible plan that will be approved by the state as a blueprint for action. The plan must also be acceptable to those in town government who will be responsible for implementing it, and to Carlisle's citizens who will be called upon at Town Meetings to approve specific projects and expenditures. This will be no small feat in a town that has built no affordable housing since 1982 despite Herculean efforts of the Housing Authority and others.

The 40B threat is now undeniably real: two small 40B developments have been approved by the Board of Appeals (BOA), a third much larger one, is working its way through the state to the BOA, and more are waiting in the wings. Though many are critical of 40B, it is working exactly as intended. It gives communities a choice to either take the hard decisions themselves or cede control of their destinies to developers. Either way the state will get more housing for the increasing numbers who can't afford to live in Massachusetts. For the state, providing such housing is an economic necessity; they see a need for workers at all income levels to drive the economy. For Carlisle, it is more personal: we want our parents, our children, and town employees to be able to live in town. And we do not want to succumb to the 40B threat, irreparably damaging our small town charm and precious natural resources in the process.

Protecting against 40B over-development

Chapter 40B tells communities that they can preserve local zoning control (reject high-density 40B projects) only if at least 10% of their total housing stock is affordable or if they build at least 3/4 of 1% of the total housing stock every year (currently 12 units a year) until the 10% goal is achieved.

40B requires a developer to market 25% of the units in a development as affordable to get approval to override local zoning. Thus for every 12 affordable units, 36 market rate units can be built. The bottom line: if standard 40B developments are our chosen route to meeting our share of affordable housing in Massachusetts, Carlisle could grow from 1,700 housing units to 2,500 — imagine ten (ten!) developments on the scale of the 56-unit 40B proposed on Concord Street spread all over town — and we'd still be short of 10% affordable. It could happen quickly enough to cause havoc in planning for our most expensive budget item: schools.

If Carlisle takes the easy route and does nothing, it will still be making a choice: allow developers to call the shots. The alternative is a real plan that identifies potential sites, analyzes real numbers, and lays out specific timetables for Carlisle to build its own affordable housing. If we do it ourselves, we will still need some market-rate units to make developments financially feasible, but it will be much less than the 3 to 1 ratio in a standard 40B.

Affordable Housing Task Force concludes:

• Developers will still initiate 40Bs. The plan suggests we encourage developers to build housing where a minimum of 40% of the units are affordabe. The plan as currently drafted assumes that developer-initiated projects may account for one of the early annual goals; at 40% affordability this would mean 12 affordable units in one or more 40B projects of 30 units total. Having an approved plan and meeting annual goals would give us much more leverage with developers, including the right to deny a comprehensive permit outright, but the town should be prepared to negotiate regardless.

• Deed-restricted accessory apartments (AAs) should be promoted to provide affordable units that will incrementally reduce the number of new units needed to reach annual production goals. The CPA funds just approved by Town Meeting, for a consultant to expand the use of AAs, is consistent with this plan goal.

• Existing town-owned lands should be considered for affordable housing. Taking current land costs out of the equation will enable us to maximize affordability without having to construct too many market-rate units to make a project work. Past experience makes it crystal clear that developing on town land is no easy task. Critical to success is strong support from numerous town boards and an understanding from the community that trade-offs are the only reasonable alternative to ceding control to developers. The plan will propose some annual goals be met through either/or scenarios whereby the town will decide that development on portions of one of several town-owned parcels will hurt the least. The plan has to identify specific parcels; it will then be up to the town to decide whether to pursue one of them, to raise funds to purchase new land, or to let developers decide on the location and density of development.

• Carlisle needs to start now to explore changes to its zoning bylaws that might facilitate the building of affordable units on our terms.

• Having a plan is no guarantee that anything will actually get done. Though having a plan approved by the state is critical so that whatever affordable units are built count towards annual production goals, unless the town makes achieving the goals a top priority and dedicates appropriate human and financial resources to it, private developers will decide our future. Therefore, building capacity within the town is critical. The town must be able to respond quickly as situations arise. Making any one project succeed is daunting; to do so year in and year out requires starting to develop organizational capacity as soon as possible. Managing development will require a coordinated effort.

Town-wide meeting June 16

These are the core elements of the proposed plan that will be presented at a town-wide meeting to be held on Thursday evening June 16 at 7:30 p.m. in Town Hall. Members of all town boards are urged to attend. All citizens are welcome. Your input is critical so that the plan Carlisle files with the state will be credible and will represent a collective visiona vision for a necessary but difficult route we must follow if we are to preserve any semblance of what we most cherish in our town.

For more information on Chapter40B see the Carlisle Mosquito web site, www.carlislemosquito.org. Scroll down the menu on left side of the home page and click on "40B FAQs."


2005 The Carlisle Mosquito