The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, December 8, 2006


The devil is in the details

There are a million details the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) must sort out as it evaluates plans for the high-density Coventry Woods 40B development on Concord Street. One puzzling detail illustrates how even small elements of a plan may have unintended consequences. During the November 27 ZBA meeting it was mentioned that plans call for the access road to be finished to the specifications for a private driveway instead of the more rigorous requirements for a subdivision road eligible to become a public road. School buses do not usually travel down private roads. Will this create a safety hazard with dozens of Coventry Woods children standing with their parents on Concord Street waiting for the school bus each day?

There are about 90 common driveways in Carlisle. Usually, they serve no more than six or seven houses. The Coventry Woods drive will serve 41 units.

According to Planning Board Administrator George Mansfield, the small common drives stay private, but that is not the case with larger private subdivision roads. Frequently after people move into new subdivisions, they request the town assume public ownership of the roads. Town Meeting will usually grant the request, though it did take two tries before Hartwell Road was accepted in 1996. At the time, a big reason the Hartwell Road residents wanted road acceptance was to get the school bus to pick up children by their houses on Hartwell Road instead at the intersection with Concord Street. Will the same thing happen with Coventry Woods?

Because the proposed Coventry Woods condominiums will have only two bedrooms, it is unclear how many of the buyers will be families with children. However, most of the 12 affordable units probably will, since families with children are given preference in affordable housing lotteries. Census data shows that, on average, families moving into Carlisle have more children than those moving out. It therefore seems likely that many of the market-rate units will also go to families with children. Even if the development has as few as 40 school-age children, there could be close to 20 elementary-school kids standing with their parents on Concord Street waiting for the bus each day. Is this a potential traffic and safety issue?

It seems likely that the future residents of Coventry Woods would seek help from the town if there is a safety problem. Would there be any way for the bus to travel onto the drive so the children could be picked up away from Concord Street, which is heavily used by commuters? It might be a good idea to double check this issue before the final Coventry Woods plans are approved.

The school bus issue is just one question about one part of the development. The ZBA must also consider the site's drainage, emergency access, setbacks, water quality, construction management and myriad other issues. The Planning Board has more experience with housing developments and more staff, but the state's requirements for Chapter 40B projects throws the permit-granting responsibility to the ZBA. This volunteer board has a very tough job. I hope they know their work is appreciated.

A "Notice of Inconsideration"

Maintaining our unbroken string of a jumping photo every day (over 340 and counting since the first of the year!) becomes more of a challenge these days as the available daylight after school quickly fades into sunset. So Aaron and I were in a bit of a hurry last Thursday afternoon as we drove through Concord looking for a good spot. Noting the floodplain of the Concord River at the Old Cow Pasture on Lowell Road, I thought, "Reflections!" We pulled into the recently re-graded boat launch area, hopped out and spent about 30 minutes trying to capture the right mix of branches, ripples, and reflected jump.

As we drove home, I noticed a flapping piece of paper on my windshield. I could make out one large red word: SUMMONS. "Uh-oh," I thought, then wondered aloud to Aaron what our short photo shoot was going to cost me in parking fines. I briefly fantasized about bringing the joyful jumping photos we had just taken with me to wherever I had been summoned with the vain hope the judge would be an art lover inspired by the innocence of our pursuit this fateful day.

Arriving home, I plucked the SUMMONS from under the wiper and began to read. Under SUMMONS were the words: NOTICE OF INCONSIDERATION. In retrospect this should have been the giveaway, but I read on, figuring civilized Concord might have such a category, one that should cost me a bit less than a truly egregious parking crime. The form appeared quite official, with my license plate number, car make and model carefully notated in little boxes. Then, in a series of checkboxes following the words: THE OPERATOR OF THE VEHICLE DESCRIBED BELOW IS CHARGED AS FOLLOWS, my offenses were clearly X'ed. I was charged with DESERVING OF A REAL SUMMONS and OTHER, with the added written note: "Parked blocking access & turning area to launch ramp where prominent posting prohibits."

It finally dawned on me that this wasn't going to cost me any money at all. Yay! Then I read the final clincher, again in red capitals: DID YOU HAVE TO PARK THIS WAY, OR ARE YOU JUST A SELFISH BASTARD? and smaller: PLEASE THINK OF OTHERS IN THE FUTURE.

Mixed feelings of relief and guilt were followed quickly by protestations to myself of my innocence: "I'm not selfish. I was right there and would have happily moved my car if I'd been aware someone was being inconvenienced. What 'prominent posting'? I only saw signs prohibiting littering! (And I swear I didn't litter!) It was late afternoon, almost dark; who'd be boating then?"

Later, when I discussed the "summons" with Aaron, he recalled having seen someone with an oar over by our car putting a kayak in the river. I guess we had wandered a little farther than I'd thought. I really had inconvenienced someone. I felt bad, but still (selfishly?) relieved I wasn't going to be out any money. I fantasized (as I do when I second-guess myself) about going back and posting an apology, but who could say when the phantom kayaker might return to the scene of my crime?

So, if you are out there, anonymous angry kayaker, reading the neighboring town paper, "Message received! I am sorry. And I will be more thoughtful in the future."

Ed. note: This tale will be more meaningful if you are familiar with David and Aaron's year-long "jumpingboy" project, described in the May 19, 2006 issue and viewable at


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2006 The Carlisle Mosquito