The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, June 9, 2005


Town Meeting approves Benfield Plan B by two votes

Carlisle voters gave new meaning to the words “cliff hanger” as they cast their votes on the final motion of the Annual Town Meeting, Part 2. The sparse gathering of 178 townspeople who turned out on Wednesday night needed a two-thirds majority of 119 votes to approve Benfield Plan B. Moderator Tom Raftery asked for a calculator as the final vote was brought forward and suspense hung over the Cory Auditorium like the thunderstorm raging outside. He then declared that Plan B recommended by the Benfield Task Force had passed by a vote of 120-58.

The Town Meeting started 20 minutes late as stragglers filtered in to finally reach the 150-person quorum. The first two motions were carried with no discussion as folks settled in for what had been predicted to be a rancorous evening. The first motion reconsidered Motion 4 of the May 23 Annual Town Meeting and asked that $277,816 from the FY06 Community Preservation Fund, to be appropriated to the FY06 Budget Reserve Account (rather than the Undesignated Fund). The second motion corrected a typo in Motion 5 of the May 23 meeting by lowering the debt service of $165,400 for a new total of $155,400. So far, so good.

All figures courtesy of the Benfield Task Force

Town purchases land in 2004

Chair of the Benfield Planning Task Force and former Selectman John Ballantine took the podium first and presented their case for Plan B. A Special Town Meeting on March 23, 2004 had approved the purchase the Benfield Parcel A on South Street, with only nine votes making the difference in achieving the required two-thirds majority (a precursor of things to come). The Town appropriated $2 million to purchase the 45.23 acre Parcel A, with 26 acres designated as open space and 19.23 acres designated for an athletic field and no more than 26 housing units of affordable housing.

The Benfield Planning Task Force, consisting of representatives of the neighborhood, several town boards, and the community at large, went on to create a master plan for the 19-acre portion and also provided a "fallback plan," in the event that the town rejected the master plan. The Task Force voted three recommendations that were used by Town Counsel to draft three motions (11, 12 and 13) in Article 20 for the 2005 Annual Town Meeting, which convened on May 23 and continued on June 8.

Task Force recommends Plan B

The Benfield Planning Task Force recommended two designated Open Space parcels for the placement of one playing field (Figure 1). The preferred site of the athletic field is in the back, the so-called Plan B (Figure 2), or if the Native American claims are determined to be valid, so that no playing field can be located in the area designated on Plan B, then the playing field may be located on the front in the existing field on South Street (Plan A – Figure 4). The Plan B field has an approximate footprint of 350 feet by 420 feet, or 3 plus acres and is located to the east of the proposed affordable/community houses and north of the stone wall bordering the conservation land (approximately 26 acres). The rest of the parcel, approximately 11 acres (interior wooded part of the Benfield land), will be set aside for community housing at a location west of the recreational field.

Ballantine explained that Plan B was chosen for reasons of safety (away from South Street traffic), less impact on neighbors, fewer wetland and conservation issues, similar costs (Plan B $100K more), integrated design with site, and flexible site development. Russ Dion, member of the Task Force, followed Ballantine and showed a map of the entire site with the access road entering the Benfield land in the center of the open field on South Street (for better sight lines) and snaking past interior wetlands to the housing and athletic field locations. Seven buildings would house the 26 affordable units and would feature a New England farmhouse design clustered around a small village common.

Native Americans ask that land remain intact

Next at the podium was Doug Harris, Deputy Tribal Preservation Officer of the Narragansett Tribe, who gave an impassioned 20-minute talk on the many manifestations of the culture of the original people who lived on or near Benfield Parcel A. “This part of your back yard is also a part of our back yard,” he said. He believes that Carlisle is fortunate to have such an ancient place of ritual that is considered a significant cultural resource for the Indian community. Harris identified several significant rock formations, including one depicting a pregnant woman lying on her right side with two stones appropriately positioned for breasts, a bowl-shaped rock used for cleansing ceremonies, and another stone with the appearance of a turtle. He wished to provide more detail, but was “constrained by the medicine men and elders.” He closed by pleading with the citizens of Carlisle to “protect what is ancient and ceremonial and take steps to ensure that it remains intact.” Harris, who spoke eloquently and without notes, received a round of applause from the enthralled crowd.

Archaeologists find little historical significance

The Massachusetts Historical Commission (MHC) has said that before any proposed construction is begun, any historical or archeological resource must undergo an intensive survey under a permit from the State Archaeologist. Alan Leveillee and his crew from the Public Archaeology Laboratory (PAL) subsequently dug 90 test holes and determined that they had not found enough evidence to make it a significant historical site. Thus were the sides drawn and arguments presented. It was time to vote.

Planning and design funds approved

The first two motions provided a warmup to the big vote. John Lee presented Motion 8 to appropriate $30,000 (transferred from the Community Preservation Fund) to be spent by the Board of Selectmen for professional services relating to planning and seeking applicable permits in connection with implementation of the Benfield Task Force report for the Benfield land. Both the BOS and FinCom recommended the motion and it passed with little opposition.

Motion 9 called for $75,000 to be appropriated from the Community Preservation Fund; $25,000 is to be spent by the Carlisle Recreation Commission for the design of an athletic field on the Benfield land, and $50,000 to be spent by the Carlisle Housing Authority for the design of an affordable housing development on the Benfield land. The BOS recommended passage, but FinCom had a split vote and Chair David Trask explained that the dissenters needed to see the “big picture” before throwing more money into the project. He was assured that an Affordable Housing Plan is on its way and voters approved the motion without further hesitation.

Plan B creates four parcels

Chair Caren Ponty of the Community Preservation Committee (CPC) had the unenviable task of reading Motions 11, 12, and 13 in their entirely. The extensive legal verbiage took her 15 minutes to get through and drew applause for her perseverance. In essence, what Ponty and the CPC recommended is as follows:

1. The land be divided into Parcel 1, 2, 3, and 4, as shown under Plan B in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Recommended Plan. Plan B, the plan recommended by the Benfield Task Force, divides the town-owned Benfield Land into four parcels, designated for open space, housing, recreation, and conservation.

2. That Parcel 1 be conveyed to the Recreation Commission as open space to be used under the full definition of open space under CPC regulations and that no further permanent structures be allowed on the site without a Town Meeting vote. An athletic field may be placed on this location without Town Meeting vote if the Recreation Commission determines that a field on Parcel 3 is not feasible or practical (the default Plan A; See Figure 4).

Figure 4. Default Plan A. If the playing field cannot be built on Parcel 3 of Plan B, for whatever reason, the field will be placed near South Street according to the Default Plan (Plan A).

3. That Parcel 2 be conveyed to the Housing Authority with the current plan that 26 units of housing can be built upon it. In the event that changes to the unit count are proposed, a Town Meeting vote would enable the Housing Authority to do such.

4. That the Parcel 3 be deeded to the Recreation Commission for an athletic field or other uses consistent with the CPA definition of Open Space. The Recreation Commission must notify the Board of Selectmen and CPC in the event they are unable to build an athletic field on this parcel so they can proceed to place the field on Parcel 1.

5. That Parcel 4 be placed under a permanent deed restriction, as approved at Town Meeting on March 23, 2003.

Figure 2. Recommended Plan B. According to Plan B, both the housing complex and the playing field are located away from South Street, with a substantial buffer from the lot lines.


Support and opposition to Plan B

The Board of Selectmen voted 4-1 to support the motions. The one dissenting vote belonged to Selectman Doug Stevenson who went on to explain his opposition. “I want to end the agony over the ballfield by decoupling the housing and field, separating them into two parts,” he said. “Plan B ties them together in an all-or-nothing choice and jeopardizes the affordable housing. I vote for Plan A.”

David Freedman of the Planning Board announced a 5-1 vote in support of Plan B. Maureen Tarca, chair of the Recreation Commission, voiced unanimous support of her group for Plan B. Alan Lehotsky confirmed Housing Authority support. The FinCom took no position since the motions were not financial.

Abutter Tim Fohl of South Street took the microphone and lamented the “destruction” of Parcel 3 (athletic field) under Plan B. Tarik Samman of Fifty Acre Way strongly opposed Plan B since it puts the ballfield almost in his back yard. Jay Luby of Woodbine Road supported Plan B and pointed out that the experts (PAL) do not agree with Doug Harris. “If the site is so sacred, why wasn’t this recognized decades ago?” he asked. Luby favored Plan B and identified Fohl as an abutter whose motives may be influenced by his proximity of the development. “I can’t even see the place from my house!” yelled Fohl. Raftery had Maureen Tarca’s microphone turned off as she aggressively challenged Doug Stevenson on his support of Plan A.

Thunder, lightning and the vote

It was time to vote. A couple of votes the other way would have scuttled Plan B and sent the ballfield back to South Street, where it may end up anyway if the Native American resistance digs in. But Plan B won by a nose as thunder roared and lightning flashed outside and Raftery moved for adjournment.

Voters lingered to buzz about the close call and then hunkered down into the rain after a rousing and productive evening. Ballantine, in an e-mail to the Task Force members later, said, “Many thanks for all your work over this year...there is still more to do, but not by us.”

Figure 3. Artist’s concept shows the proposed housing complex as a cluster of New England farm buildings.


© 2005 The Carlisle Mosquito