Friday, August 25, 2006
Selectmen review progress, new challenges
On August 8, the selectmen dusted off the goals set last summer for the just-completed FY06 and found that, while many of the year's objectives had been achieved, some had proved more difficult than anticipated. While significant progress was made, roadblocks arose in the areas of affordable housing, cell towers, and recreational facilities. Objectives were reached in the more tractable areas of hiring, technology improvements, and planning. And where one problem was solved, there were plenty more to attend to: seven "high priority" and six "priority" goals had been set, with five "other goals" also defined (see sidebar on page 16.)
Some progress on affordable housing
Affordable housing was one area in which progress was made, but there were also some discouraging delays. In August 2005, objectives included state approval of a housing plan and an RFP for an Accessory Apartment bylaw. Both have been achieved. The other three objectives, an implementation plan for affordable housing, the recording of a subdivision for the town-owned Benfield Parcel A, and implementation of affordable housing on Parcel A have been stalled by the discovery of Native American stones and an endangered salamander species on the Benfield site.
Tim Hult summarized the current philosophy for achieving affordable housing in Carlisle as "complete Lowell Street, Concord Street, and Benfield to buy ourselves two to three years" moratorium from the Chapter 40 B state law which allows circumvention of zoning in towns with insufficient affordable housing. He added, "At the end of three years there are several ways we could go. My preference would be smaller projects."
Bite the big project bullet?
Doug Stevenson proposed a different strategy, "I would be willing to consider biting the big bullet and getting this done." He added, "The small project feels like we'll die a thousand deaths. . . Coventry Woods was excruciatingly painful, and it isn't over yet." He noted that "we need to do 15 of those (Coventry Woods-sized projects)" to achieve the 10% affordability goal at which Chapter 40B is no longer in effect. "What if we just had one big battle?"
Newly elected Selectman Alan Carpenito expressed concern that the Benfield project is financially endangered because the town "can't build market rate units there" and therefore "a two-million dollar subsidy" will be required to complete it. Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds were used to purchase the land, and therefore all housing must be affordable. "It's hard to go to the townspeople and ask them to subsidize units for people making more than some who have lived here 30 or 40 years," added Carpenito. He also worries that projects consisting of all subsidized units rather than a mix of market and subsidized bring social issues. "It changes the whole climate of the place."
Hult proposed, "It makes sense to have a planning day and get the town talking" about where to go from here on the issue of affordable housing. Town Administrator Madonna McKenzie agreed to schedule a date.
"Can't move quickly enough" on cell towers
The goal of locating a cell tower on town land in order to increase revenue included the following objectives: developing bylaw changes, working with the Carlisle School regarding sites, and issuing an RFP for a cell tower on town property near the center. Bill Tice reported that, although the bylaws have been changed, "I don't know if we'll get there fast enough" before the cell companies find their own locations (see "Cell tower may be coming to Westford Street" August 4 Mosquito). In order to complete the RFP, a vote of Town Meeting is needed on the location of a base station "so things are piling up against us. We can't move quickly enough." He noted the subcommittee will continue to negotiate with vendors, including one that may not require an RFP.
Other goals reviewed, renewed
A Warrant Article for recreational fields did appear at Spring Town Meeting, and fulfilled one objective; however the proposal was defeated at Town Elections. Bill Tice suggested keeping the goal to implement a recreation facility plan, but adding an objective to "address the changing demographics of the town" by including recreation for seniors.
The goal to develop a five-year financial plan lagged most of the year, but was advanced earlier in the evening by completing appointments to the subcommittee tasked with generating a capital plan with the appointment of Fontaine Richardson as community-at-large representative. In addition, Bill Tice emphasized the need for "a hard study of assets, where are expenses, and costs" in partnership with the Long Term Capital Requirements Committee.
Goals to improve employee appreciation and to provide leadership and communication with town boards are on-going. Tice would like to see a harder look at "why there are complaints, why people can't work together" on boards and committees. He suggested training in management effectiveness might be a solution.
Lower priorities make progress
A land use committee has been established, fulfilling the first "priority goal." McKenzie noted the technology plan has seen substantial progress, including the addition of CCTV, a town web site, networking at Town Hall, and computer purchases. But looking at the space/staffing plan for Town Hall, Stevenson admitted, "This didn't get off the ground. It's a complicated one to bite off."
Another goal was providing "safe, ADA compliant, low maintenance pathways in Carlisle." Hult added, "We've got to get this going again" and said the selectmen may have to help resolve an issue between the Bike and Pedestrian Safety Advisory Committee to the BOS and the Board of Health regarding how to safely treat poison ivy. The Bike Committee is planning to test a new surface and make a determination as to the best for future pathways.
The "other goals" had not received much attention throughout the year. The Town Building Committee had not been formed, and Hult questioned if it was needed. MccKenzie noted many towns have a standing committee to manage RFPs and set standards for construction and management of town buildings. "There are good reasons to have it," she added. "But it also adds some bureaucracy," noted Hult. Goals to refine policies and procedures and provide access to permitting rules and documents may eventually be achieved as the web site refined.
The plan for the wireless Town Common was summarized by Stevenson, "Ideally we'd love to have it if we could find the money." The plan to encourage volunteers had lost poriority, as more people seemed to be stepping forward. Said Stevenson, "It doesn't feel as big a challenge as last year." In addition, the biggest barrier to volunteerism seems to be the numbers of meetings and "unless they change state laws to allow virtual meetings" there's little the selectmen can do.
New issues arise with security, school, Town Center
New ideas for the list included a suggestion by Bill Tice that Homeland Security be added. Some training has taken place but more needs to be done in the areas of providing emergency shelter, electric generation, and water. In addition, communication with town people needs to be examined, possibly through CCTV. Hult noted that in an emergency, ""Isolation will be our problem. We should have the community divided up with satellite radio available in each area."
Other issues were explored. Carpenito noted that when he campaigned for selectman, "most I spoke to at 'campaign headquarters' at the transfer station were concerned about taxes." He noted talk of a new school building has raised the fear significantly. Hult also noted a concern about teacher turnover at the Carlisle School. Carpenito agreed, "With parents of young kids, that's a really big concern. Hult noted baby-boomer retirements were largely to blame and "That's not ours to fix."
Another issue, according to Tice, is "What will the center be like? He noted that with alcohol at Ferns, the new park next door, a Town Common Committee, lights on flag pole, and other changes, residents are wondering if it will be a bigger destination point. "That's the battle cry," said Stevenson. "A nicer place to go means more people will go there."
Why do seniors leave?
At their meeting August 22, Carpentito raised the issue of "Empty-nestors moving out of town" as a high priority. Hult noted the issue is a subtext of the Financial Plan, which aims to control taxes going forward. John Williams also noted that up to 70% of affordable housing can go to residents, and provide downsizing that would not otherwise be available. Stevenson noted the selectmen don't really know why people move — are they dissatisfied? A suggestion was made to try to gather that information. "Maybe we need exit interviews," said Tice.
The selectmen will continue discussion of their goals and draw up new goals for FY07 at their first meeting in September.
Goals for FY06
High Priority Goals
1. Five Year Financial Plan
2. Cell Tower
3. Affordable Housing
4. Hire New Police Chief
5. Employee Appreciation and Feedback
6. Recreation Facility Plan
7. Town Board and Committee Leadership and Communication
8. Land Use Team
9. Technology Plan
10. Space Use/Staffing Plan
11. Tax Relief
12. Web Site
14. Town Building Committee
15. Policies and Procedures
16. Wireless Town Common
18. Access to Permitting Procedures
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