Friday, March 3, 2006
ConsCom says Foss ballfield design premature
The Recreation Commission's request to the Carlisle Community Preservation Committee (CPC) for $80,000 to fund a design study for two athletic fields at Foss Farm, as reported in the February 10 issue of the Mosquito, brought a strong reaction at the February 23 Conservation Commission (ConsCom) meeting. Not that commissioners were unaware that the Recreation Committee (RecCom) had a long-held desire to locate a ball field on that conservation parcel, but they were clearly disturbed that RecCom had not informed them of their plans or asked them for input since a July 12 meeting of the Board of Selectmen, at which members of the two commissions and representatives from major users of the property, had expressed willingness to participate in an exploration of the feasibility of such a project. They had, however, sought and received preliminary ConsCom approval of plans for buildup of athletic facilities at Banta-Davis that will be presented at Spring Town Meeting.
CPC is the committee that reviews applications for spending funds collected under the Community Preservation Act's 2% real estate surcharge, before these requests go to Town Meeting for approval. Commissioner John Lee, ConsCom's representative on the CPC, shortly before leaving on vacation had alerted fellow members informally that RecCom was about to submit a request for Foss Farm funding at the close of ConsCom's February 9 meeting. Since Chairman Tom Schultz had not been present, a discussion was left for February 23. In the interim, and finding herself bewildered by what she read in the newspaper, ConsCom's newest member, Kelly Stringham, sent an e-mail to her colleagues with a series of questions she hoped would be clarified at the next session. Because veteran members felt that her questions went to the core of their discomfort over unfolding events, she was asked to repeat them for the benefit of those who had not seen them. She then did so in part as follows:
"Isn't Foss Farm under our jurisdiction for conservation purposes and for some types of recreation? If so, why did RecCom ask the CPC for funds to study having ball fields on Foss Farm? If it makes sense to have ball fields at Foss, wouldn't it make sense for RecCom to approach us or to work with the Land Stewardship Committee to develop a plan for Foss Farm?" The Land Stewardship Committee is a ConsCom subcommittee formed last year to assess conservation properties and develop management plans for each.
Stringham continued, "Why did RecCom come to talk to us about their plan for Banta-Davis which, unlike Foss Farm, is under RecCom management and not about Foss Farm, which is ConsCom's responsibility? It seems a poor use of time and money for a group to do a study on land where they don't have the decision-making responsibility. Isn't that akin to having an imaginary scenario where the Housing Authority requests funds to do a study on affordable housing on Banta-Davis?"
Stringham concluded that, with RecCom moving ahead while ignoring ConsCom, the result could become "messier" if not addressed now, and volunteered to act as a liaison to RecCom, suggesting, "Maybe my lack of history with this issue would be helpful."
Observing that Stringham had highlighted the issues that RecCom's request raised, Schultz asked for reactions from his colleagues. Commissioner Tricia Smith was first up with a recommendation that a letter be sent to the CPC asking that they withdraw the funding request until RecCom agrees to talk with ConsCom, along with the Stewardship Committee, which has already assigned three members to study that property and to come up with a management plan. Schultz expanded the scope of the letter to include CPC, RecCom and the Board of Selectmen and to suggest a meeting where ConsCom could bring RecCom and other interested entities up to date on the history, present uses, environmental restrictions, legal entanglements and more.
Foss Farm history
Foss Farm was purchased by the Town of Carlisle following a two-thirds vote of the 1971 Town Meeting with substantial self-help funding from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and from the Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund. It is classified as "prime" agricultural land by the USDA Soil Conservation Service and as such is protected by the Commonwealth as "land characterized by active agricultural use." The Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program also shows a (mostly wooded) portion of the property as an "Extended Habitat of Rare Wildlife."
Commissioner Roy Watson said he was, to put it diplomatically, " disturbed" that RecCom had made a major proposal for building ball fields on the most intensely used piece of land under commission jurisdiction without having any contact with ConsCom. He was referring to farmer Mark Duffy, who has grown feed for his Great Brook Farm dairy herd on about 20 acres of the 57-acre parcel for the last 18 years, the Carlisle Equestrians (Pony Club) who have built and helped maintain two riding rings for many years, the community gardeners who grow a variety of crops on 95 plots, dog walkers, sled dog trainers, hikers, kite flyers cross-country skiers, bird watchers, etc.
Warming to his subject, Watson said that, as a taxpayer, he was strongly opposed to the expenditure of $80,000 before the applicants know what might or might not be an achievable goal, before they have consulted other people who would be affected and with scant recognition of the legal challenges involved. Schultz viewed the situation more from a management perspective, saying that he was more concerned about the lack of process. "It is completely dysfunctional to start spending money before you've even found out if the goal is potentially attainable," he said. Therefore he supported sending a letter to CPC, with copies to Rec Com and the Selectmen calling for a breather to open the way for collaboration between conflicting constituencies. Commissioner Diane Troppoli agreed that the letter made sense but urged that the tone be conciliatory, indicate flexibility and stress the commission's desire to find the best solution for the town as a whole.
The commission accepted Stringham's offer to write a draft letter. Since that evening, Schultz has informed the Mosquito that CPC's next meeting has been moved to Wednesday, March 1, and that he would be attending. The Recreation Commission is expected to submit a revised version of its Foss Farm request at that time.
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