The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, December 9, 2005


Quintessential Carlisle

Over two dozen people waited for the doors of the First Religious Society to open last Saturday morning. Braving a blustery, biting wind, enthusiastic shoppers wanted first crack at the Greens Sale and Craft Fair. Unlike pre-dawn shoppers outside Wal-Mart the morning after Thanksgiving, no one was trampled, and there were enough wreaths for all customers. After all, this is Carlisle, where community events bring us together, where we leave death in Iraq and post-Katrina misery at the doorstep and celebrate the coming season.

Union Hall was decked with holly and every other evergreen native to Carlisle. "Hi, neighbor!" said a wreath-bearing man leaving Union Hall. "Hi, neighbor!" came the reply from a couple entering. People came with gift lists in mind and looked over the array of home-grown Carlisle products. The room was festooned with wreaths hanging from the ceiling on green and red ribbons, and boxwood centerpieces decorated a center table. Organizations and individuals offered wooden bowls, Carlisle honey, hand-knit scarves, Bicentennial blankets with town scenes, holiday ornaments and note cards. The Mosquito's new history book sold briskly, so did the Old Home Day video. Pies, cookies, cakes and gingerbread-house kits disappeared quickly.

Music from the Second Wind quartet filled the air, and Santa mingled with the crowd, to the delight of children and adults. Every age group seemed to be represented, from the tiny toddler in a red velveteen dress to the town's favorite senior citizen, Dot Clark. This was an occasion to see old friends, meet new ones, and make new connections. This was quintessential Carlisle, where our much-praised outdoors came indoors, transformed into wreaths, swags and centerpieces to bring enjoyment, comfort and memories during the holidays.

Like every other event in town, the Greens Sale depended on many volunteers for its success — townspeople made the greens, the baked goods and many of the items being sold at the festive tables. Volunteers made lunches (lobster rolls were a popular item this year), staffed the tables, handled cash boxes, and red-aproned helpers made sure the sale ran smoothly in every way.

The warmth of community spirit persisted as shoppers clutched their purchases and re-entered the real world. In a few hours Representative Marty Meehan would host a town meeting in Concord on the Iraq war and later that day came news of more deaths near Baghdad.

We are fortunate to live in a small town where we can leave the troubled world behind and find community for a small while. This weekend, two more events are scheduled in town, guaranteed to further the holiday spirit. The Congregational Church's Christmas Fair is tomorrow, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and the Historical Society's Open House at Heald House (698 Concord Street) is on Sunday from 2 to 4 p.m.

See you there!

Freakonomics and 40B

I recently read a book called Freakonomics by Dubner and Levitt in which they posit that people's behaviors are mostly driven by financial incentives. They challenge the reader to delve into questions about why we do what we do and to "follow the money" to help understand it. After reading the October 21 Mosquito article about "Coventry Woods 40B proposal," regarding the proposed development on Concord Street, I did some digging. In case you don't know, I am opposed to 40B development in Carlisle (a position previously stated in my November 19, 2004 Forum essay). That notwithstanding, I took a hard look at the "Freakonomics" of 40B development and learned a great deal.

The most striking conclusion of this analysis was that the financial incentives for (a) town government, (b) the developers, and (c) the realtors are generously aligned under 40B. In the case of the 22.6-acre plot called "Coventry Woods," you should know the following: the developers plan to build 56 homes 14 "affordable" priced at $163,000 each and 42 market-priced from $550,000 to $650,000. If this property was developed according to our normal 2-acre zoning, we would likely see ten houses selling for prices averaging $1.2 million. I ran the numbers and calculated that with 40B, the developers will score an additional $2-3 million in profits; the realtors will more than double their commissions; and the town will receive about $195,000 in additional tax revenues compared to a 2-acre development project! Some would refer to this as a win-win-win scenario. What do we have to lose?

For developers and realtors, 40B is a no-brainer; the more densely populated Carlisle becomes, the more money they will make by a country mile. But let's look more closely at the additional $195k the town would receive in tax revenues. About 64%, or $125k, would go to the schools, which spend an average of $10,860 per pupil (FY2006). Since the average tax revenues per home would be $6,193, and 64% of that is for schools, we would collect an average of $3,964 per household for schools, and spend an average of $10,860 per pupil. Put another way, the additional taxes would support only 12 additional kids. But here a voice says, "Yes, but Coventry Woods is planned to be an age-restricted community where one member of each household must be 55 or older." "So what?" would say my 57-year-old brother-in-law whose daughter turned six this year.

Does anyone believe this 40B development will be good for the schools? For traffic flow? For people's wells? Dr. Heidi Kummer had it right in her letter to the Carlisle Board of Appeals (see October 21 Mosquito) when she suggested that Coventry Woods may be the beginning of the end of Carlisle as we know it.

New Jersey was the first state to pass "Affordable Housing" legislation similar to our 40B statute. The so-called Mount Laurel Plan was adopted in N.J. in the 70s. They have since reformed it such that affordable housing units could be accounted for on a regional basis. If such reform was adopted here, Lowell's housing stock could count towards a regional goal of 10% and we wouldn't be faced with having to build 170 more affordable units in Carlisle to be in compliance. New Jersey learned the hard way that a "one size fits all" approach is destructive to towns like Carlisle and they have since fixed it. We can do the same in Massachusetts, but our town leadership must fight for it every step of the way. Otherwise, we can kiss Carlisle as we know it goodbye.


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2005 The Carlisle Mosquito