The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, May 5, 2006


Carlisle says it's serious about affordable housing

At Town Meeting May 1, Carlisle citizens gave the town the go-ahead to pursue affordable housing opportunities. In several Articles and motions, voters agreed to hire a $50,000 Housing Coordinator, establish a Housing Trust with $50,000, and change bylaws while providing up to $90,000 in incentives to encourage affordable accessory apartments. They also endorsed a plan to pay a developer $200,000 in Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds to add two affordable units at Coventry Woods in order to obtain a one-year moratorium from 40B development.

Selectman John Williams presented a motion, easily passed, that the Articles and Motions related to affordable housing be presented together so as to make for a more coherent discussion. Those included Article 8, Article 25, Article 26, Motions 4, 5, and 6, and Article 28. Williams noted these are "individual pieces of an overall plan" for taking a "proactive approach" to generating affordable housing in Carlisle.

Proactive plan recommended

Williams noted the current state law Chapter 40B, would allow a developer to circumvent Carlisle zoning laws as long as 25% of units being developed were affordable. A town moratorium from 40B can be obtained by adding 12 affordable units per year. To reach the 10% affordability mark, Carlisle needs to add a total of 150 affordable units. If done through 40B developers, according to Williams, 600 additional total units of housing would be added by the time the town reached its 10% goal. This is a 35% increase on the current total of 1,672 housing units in the town, and would have con-sequences for "fragile water resources," town operating costs, the ability to continue with a call fire department, rural character and demands on schools.

In an alternate scenario, "an energetic and focused" Housing Authority would implement its plan to add 12 affordable units each year, starting with Covenant Woods and continuing in years two and three with 26 units at Benfield. In summary, "40B is a reality. Developers are here and they are building," said Williams. "We need to provide housing for those with need, and keep what we so value in Carlisle."

Article 8 provides

Housing Coordinator

Susan Stamps of the Housing Authority. (Photo by Mike Quayle)

Williams introduced Article 8 providing a Housing Coordinator/Assistant to Town Administrator to provide "professional competence in the area of housing" at a cost of up to $50,000. Duties would potentially include administering accessory apartment agreements, working with development partners, applying for permits and grants, identifying new housing opportunities, and assisting the Town Administrator with procurement.

Kerry Kissinger of Elizabeth Ridge wanted to add to the list of duties "apply for a waiver of 40B" and "lobby for appeal" in favor of a regional solution. He received applause for stating, "40B doesn't make sense for a community like Carlisle." The Housing Authority's Susan Stamps noted that in her conversations with state Representative Cory Atkins, Atkins has agreed: "It would be great to have a regional approach to 40B" but that "urban legislators have no sympathy for the issues of small towns like Carlisle."

Ed Sonn of Woodland Road questioned if "we could find this wonderful person for this kind of money?" Responded Williams, "Can we get a person? We pray that we can." The rest of the town hopes so too, as the article passed easily.

Article 25

establishes housing trust

Alan Lehotsky, Housing Authority chair. (Photo by Mike Quayle)

Housing Authority chair Alan Lehotsky explained the need for a Housing Trust to pursue opportunities and administer an account in which money is retained year-to-year and "cannot be used for any other purpose." He noted the trustees will be "people you trust" and that independence from the town "is a very good thing" because it protects the town from litigation by keeping decisions at arm's length. Activities of the Trust would include implementing the Affordable Housing Plan, funding feasibility studies, arranging appraisals and negotiating purchase and sales agreements, negotiating with developers and educating the public. Preserving existing housing stock might also be a goal through management of the Greenough and Bog houses, and perhaps relocation of small houses that might otherwise become tear-downs.

Kerry Kissinger wondered what would happen to the assets if the Trust were dissolved. Lehotsky said he believed legally the assets must be applied to a similar purpose. Another question about possible tax implications led Lehotsky to note that mortgages entered into by the trust do not encumber the town, and, in the case of default, the creditors would come after the property, not Carlisle. With a few "nays," the vote on the Housing Trust passed.

Article 26 Motion 5 was voted on later in the evening. It transferred $50,000 to the Housing Trust. There was no discussion and the motion passed easily.

Accessory apartments

added to plan

Article 26 Motion 4 and Article 28 were presented together as they both concerned affordable accessory apartments. Doug Stevenson of the Affordable Accessory Apartment Task Force noted the attraction of satisfying 40B requirements with "low impact" units that "will not overly tax neighborhoods." In addition, accessory apartments could become "a source of income, especially for senior residents so they can remain living in Carlisle." He asked, "Wouldn't it be great to see affordable accessory apartments spread around town as opposed to high-density developments now being proposed?"

Article 26 Motion 4 provided $90,000 from CPA funds for incentives of $15,000 per accessory apartment to homeowners who go through the process of making their units qualify as Affordable Accessory Apartments for the purpose of increasing Carlisle's affordable units under 40B. That process includes a Planning Board special permit, review by the Board of Health and a building permit, a deed restriction, and the requirement that tenants meet 40B income requirements and that the apartment rent below 40B limits. Annual oversight would be supplied by the Housing Authority. The units would have to be kept under the deed restriction for 15 years to retain the $15,000. If the owner decides to opt out, he retains $1,000 for each year the unit was in the program.

The bylaw changes in Article 28 would allow apartments in detached structures, on any legal lot, and in non-resident buildings. Previously, dwellings were not allowed in detached structures, as Carlisle zoning has generally limited density to one house per two-acre lot. The size of an affordable accessory apartment was set at 50% of the dwelling, or a maximum of 1,200 square feet would be allowed as an accessory apartment. These bylaw changes would apply only to units under the Affordable Accessory Apartment Plan.

Tom Donohue a Nathan Lane resident wondered if the Affordable Accessory Apartment Plan satisfies 40B. Stevenson noted "We do not have final approval from the relevant state agencies" but "I urge you to support [the program] in expectation it will be approved." Deb Belanger later noted that state agencies list accessory apartments in their strategies for achieving affordability, so "it's not a whole new idea to the state."

A question was asked by Kevin Berquist of Lowell Street about a clause in section that the accessory apartment must be "removed" if the agreement and special permit are terminated. According to Stevenson, the apartment would have to be "returned to a state where it's not a separate dwelling" or is not in violation of the bylaws pertaining to apartments outside the program.

Bobby Lyman of Cross Street noted she preferred the existing bylaws with the restriction on detached units and said "I think we're opening a big can of worms with tearing down buildings and forcing people out." She envisions renting to a son or daughter and when their income rises, having to say "You're earning too much, you're too successful, goodbye." Stevenson later said an existing tenant can increase income to 150% of qualifying income and still remain in an affordable unit.

Ed Sonn wondered if the program were discontinued whether existing units could remain. Stevenson agreed they could be grandfathered and added, "If we decide it isn't working, we never have to fund it again."

Kerry Kissinger asked for a show of hands for interest in the plan. A few hands were raised. Stevenson said about six current holders of special permits have expressed "some interest" and that their rents were "at or below the level to qualify as affordable."

Amendment proposed

to bylaw changes

The vote on Article 26 Motion 4 to fund the accessory apartment program passed easily. However, an amendment from the floor, presented by Greg Felch of Stearns Street, proposed limiting the bylaw changes in Article 28 to allow accessory apartments only in "pre-existing detached structures" to prevent new construction that could diverge from current two-acre zoning. But Steve Golsen of Stearns Street noted it would be too easy to circumvent the restriction by building a barn, then converting it.

David Freedman of the Planning Board, "at the risk of sounding like the Moderator," said the time for input to the bylaw changes was during a public hearing held in April "at which we received no comments from the public." The proposed amendment was defeated, and the two-thirds vote on the bylaw changes passed with a few dissenters.

$200,000 for Coventry Woods adds affordable units

John Williams introduced Motion 6 by noting that the Coventry Woods development, which originally was planned to include over 60 units, was "a nightmare for abutters, our neighbors, and a rude awakening for the town." To reduce the scale an agreement was reached between the abutters and the developer for 40 units, of which 10 would be affordable. A further agreement was reached that if the town supplied $200,000, the developer would raise the number of affordable units to the 12 Carlisle needs in order to obtain a one-year moratorium from 40B. Article 26 Motion 6 proposed transferring $200,000 from CPA funds to fulfill the agreement. Some or all of those funds could be recaptured if an average sales price in excess of $670,000 is realized from the Coventry Woods market-rate units, in which case 50% of the excess will be returned to the town.

Joan Parker of Russell Street introduced herself as an abutter concerned that the agreement lifts the age restriction on occupancy, "which could have a great impact on the schools." She questioned "paying $200,000 to help a developer. That's what we're doing." John Ballantine, arriving at that moment, said, "We need to embrace a proactive part with developers. It takes time, talk and money."

John Foster of Nathan Lane noted, "This is definitely precedent-setting. Bottom line, taxpayers are being asked to subsidize development in Carlisle." He added, "How often will we be asked to pay $100 to $200,000 per unit?" and wondered about a regional solution. Freedman compared the cost of these units to Benfield where "the cost of those units will be $180,000 after sale. $100,000 is quite cheap in comparison." Said Williams, "No one cares [about a regional solution] but us." He noted if you told a legislator from Cambridge that water and septic were issues, "they would think you came from a very strange place."

Bonnie Miskolczy of Cross Street wondered if the town could require the affordable units to be built using environmentally friendly,"green"methods which might reduce heating costs. Williams, noting he had already made the developer scream, said, "I can't think we can push for a lot more." Lehotsky said 40B laws do not allow differences between affordable and market-rate units.

The final word from the floor came from Carolyn Kiely of Hartwell Road who wondered, "Is it a legal use of CPA funds to pay a developer his profit?" The Community Preservation Committee's Caren Ponty responded, "We're really just buying the two units, and that is perfectly legal under CPA." The motion passed with a few "nay" votes. Other Article 26 motions passed with little comment.

Article 26 Motion 1, which transferred CPA funds into various buckets, passed without comment. Motion 2 providing $20,000 in CPA funds for the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail was "enthusiastically endorsed" by trail abutter Margaret Darling and passed unanimously. Motion 3 providing $41,000 in CPA funds for a survey of town historical property was presented by Historical Commission chair Larry Sorli and also passed unanimously.

2006 The Carlisle Mosquito