Friday, July 14, 2006
Will this house be another teardown?
When my husband, our eight-month-old son, and I moved to Carlisle on Estabrook Road in 1966 there were only three houses on our road — the red Cape which we bought from the Hastings family, the farmhouse next door where Lena Nelson lived, and the modest one-story house on the other side that Robert Martens built for himself and his wife Shirley in 1962. Over the years, other houses have gone up on Estabrook Road, providing us with new neighbors, playmates for our children and many good friends. However, it is these three houses around our corner that I have been thinking about lately, especially with the death of Robert Martens, age 89, on June 20.
To our great delight in 1985, when the Phillips-Jones family bought the former Nelson property, they decided to keep the farmhouse and barn and add on to it in the rear. Many times have I thanked them for keeping that sweet old farmhouse next door.
Now I am wondering what will happen to Bob Martens' house. The one-story, approximately 1,600-square-foot house, which has three bedrooms, living room, dining room, kitchen, porch, one and a half baths, and garage, is now 44 years old. Twelve years ago, Martens had a two-bedroom apartment built on, which he has rented out over the past ten years.
To my mind this is a house in Carlisle that we should try to preserve. No, it does not have the charm and character of the Phillips-Jones farmhouse and it is not the kind of house that most people looking to buy in Carlisle are hunting for. But it is a house for a young couple starting a family, retirees, or town employees, and it is a house with an attached apartment. This modest well-built house should not be a teardown. With the apartment as one, could it become two affordable housing units? One of the things I like most about my neighborhood of Estabrook and Bellows Hill Roads is the diversity, where people of varying income levels and house sizes live happily together.
How often have I heard it said, by folks of our age group, people who moved to Carlisle in the '60s and '70s, "I guess our house will be one of those teardowns." I must admit I have these concerns about our house as well, but at the moment I am thinking about the house next door and I truly believe it should not go to a developer who wants to tear it down to put up yet another big house. Here is an ideal candidate for just the type of conversion to affordable housing contemplated in Carlisle's ten-year plan.
The frog in the lobster pot
I have been following the Globe's articles on the cruel and unusual treatment endured by lobsters sold live, prompting some markets to stop selling them. I also remember the parable about the frog in the pan of water on the stove. The temperature slowly rises, and the frog swims around loving every minute of it until the boiling point is reached. End of frog. In this respect, the frog and the lobster both have a lot in common with the Town of Carlisle. Carlisle is happily swimming in the pot called Affordable Housing, aka 40B.
At the last Town Meeting, it was stated that in order to add 150 affordable units to our current stock of 28, developers would need to build 600 homes in total (25% or 150 of which would be "affordable"). But we currently have 1,780 households in Carlisle and adding 600 would take us to 2,380, thus requiring well more than 150 affordable units to get to the required 10%. In fact, 40B development will need to add at least 1,000 new homes, 250 of which would be affordable, for Carlisle to be in compliance. The Benfield Project and a few more accessory apartments would not improve the picture significantly, as they would probably be offset by additional non-40B developments. I've run the numbers, and the impact on our town will be staggering.
We'll add at least 1,000 new households and about 650 more kids to the schools, 70% of whom would be in CPS, the remainder in CCHS and Minuteman. Our cost of everything, from the transfer station, to fire and police, to general government, and, yes to the schools, will increase by over 50% — not including the additional debt service associated with building a second school (and maybe town sewer and water service).
The real secret that no one talks about is the difference to our tax base that today's 2-acre zoning brings versus the roughly half-acre zoning that 40B brings. Large houses on 2-acre lots more than pay for themselves by their tax revenues; houses on half-acre lots do not. If we added 250 single-family homes on 2-acre lots, per-household taxes would go down by 5% for all of us (in 2006 dollars). If we add 1000 homes with half-acre density, we will increase taxes by 20% for all of us, a 25% impact! What would a 25% tax increase mean to your household budget?
Realtors and developers absolutely love greater density. I believe that some of our government leaders may also. According to Susan Stamps, as quoted in the May 5, 2006 Mosquito coverage of Town Meeting, representative Cory Atkins has stated, "It would be great to have a regional approach to 40B," but "urban legislators have no sympathy for the issues of small towns like Carlisle." Does that mean we shouldn't try to lobby for a regional approach to 40B? We could provide funding to, say, Lowell, to provide for more affordable housing where public transportation and jobs exist. We may see tax increases to fund such a contribution, but at least we'd preserve our infrastructure. Does anyone want to bet that adding 1,000 more homes in Carlisle won't affect our wells, our schools, and our quality of life?
In my view, it is absolutely imperative that the Town of Carlisle join with others in similar situations and begin to do everything possible to stop this nonsensical approach to urban planning. The pot's on the stove; the temperature's rising; are we going to just swim around until it's too late?
© 2006 The