Friday, September 22, 2006
Housing near road is best bet, says Benfield Task Force
A majority of the Benfield Task Force recommends a modified Plan B, moving the planned location for a 26-unit affordable housing development from the interior of the Benfield Land (Area 2 on the map, page 5), to Area 1, along South Street. The Task Force hopes to present the new plans to the Board of Selectmen at their September 26 meeting with the hope that it will be included in the Fall Town Meeting Warrant.
moved back to Area 3
The planned recreation field would be located in the wooded area north of the stone wall (Area 3) as originally voted by Special Town Meeting on March 23, 2004, when the town bought the 45-acre property for affordable housing, conservation and recreation. During the summer the Task Force considered a version of Plan B with the playing field farther south in acreage originally set aside for conservation, but the possibility of changing the use of the conservation land is now "off the table," according to Task Force Chair John Ballantine.
Why Plan A was discarded
Plan A, an alternative to locate the ballfield near the road and the housing near the eastern edge of the land, was not favored for two reasons. According to Ballantine, in Plan A the housing would have a greater impact on the salamander habitat and would also cost more. He later estimated that ledge and the longer driveway would make Plan A $300,000 to $500,000 more expensive than Plan B, where housing is close to South Street and an unpaved road might be used to access the playing field.
Ballantine noted that "neighbors were quite concerned with the change in the potential development from the original plan approved by Town Meeting."
Unable to find a solution that satisfied all parties, frustration was evident at the Task Force meeting on September 15. "It's a square peg in a round hole," said member Ray Kubacki of South Street, who suggested the town might be better off to sell the land, swap it, or just "bank it." These ideas were not pursued. Housing Authority representative Alan Lehotsky cited Community Preservaton Act and conservation restrictions and concluded that selling the land was not a viable option.
Ballantine later summarized the meeting and recent Task Force work, "This plan is not what anybody intended or advocated. The Town Meeting and task force approved plans to put housing and the ballfield on [Area] 2 and three in the forested area of the Benfield Land. However, after the blue spotted salamander was found and reported to the state, it was clear that the forested land on the site was their preferred habitat...and that it was largely protected under state law."
The Carlisle Conservaton Foundation (CCF) sold the property to the town. Ballantine has spoken with CCF, which stressed their desire for permanent protection of the land near Spencer Brook, in the southern part of the property. Given that neighborhood input has been involved in the town's planning, he believed CCF had no other constraints on the location of housing or active recreation.
Ballantine has also contacted members of the Benfield family, who originally owned the property. He said the Benfield brothers, Michael and Peter, asked that if the housing must be located near the road, that it be screened from the neighbors.
A straw vote among the those Task Force members present showed three in favor of the new Plan B and two abutters abstaining. Recreation Commission chair Allen Deary emphasized the importance of the playing field and its inclusion in the Benfield plan.
The 2004 Town Meeting vote to purchase the land for $2 milliion stipulated that housing and active recreation be limited to the 19-acre portion of the property closest to South Street (areas 1, 2, 3), while the 26 acres toward the back of the property (area 4) be preserved as conservation.
The exact location of development was to be decided by a master planning process, and if that process failed to reach consensus by June 30, 2005, there was a "fall-back plan" to locate the housing in the 14-acre "housing overlay district" (area 2) and the playing field in the 5-acre "recreation overlay district" (area 3.) Both housing and playing field would have been located well inside the property, shielded from abutters and the road.
Since that time, two additional constraints have arisen: the rare blue spotted salamander was observed on the land last fall, and representatives from the . Wampanoag and Narragansett tribes have requested no disturbance of stones in the woods they believe were used in the past for Native American ceremonial purposes. The state's Public Archaeology Laboratory examined the property and found evidence of Native American presence, but did not judge the area to qualify as a "registered" historic site.
The salamanders breed in vernal pools and otherwise live in nearby wooded uplands. The Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program (NHESP) has stipulated no-build zones in the area 300-feet wide around the vernal pools. Limited building may be allowed in the area within 800-feet of the vernal pools or in a 400-foot "patency zone," or band connecting the two known vernal pools in the area. One pool lies (within area 4) south of the stone wall and the other vernal pool lies just off the property on abutting land to the east. NHESP has said that locating a ballfield near the salamander habitat is preferable to housing, which would permanently alter the land.
A partial listing of related articles:
September 1, 2006 - Benfield Task Force struggles with constraints and trade-offs, by Maya Liteplo.
September 30, 2005 - Benfield Land shelters rare species, by Betsy Fell.
June 3, 2005 - Archaeological findings on Benfield Land "not very significant," by Cecile Sandwen.
June 3, 2005 - Native Americans seek harmony with the town, by Ellen Miller.
March 26, 2004 - Town Meeting approves purchase of Benfield Parcel A, by Cecile Sandwen.
March 12, 2004 - Q&As about the purchase of the Benfield Parcel A, by Maya Liteplo.
© 2006 The