The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, July 20, 2007


Trust asks Housing Authority — build smaller, senior development on Benfield

The idea of tailoring the housing on the town-owned Benfield Land toward seniors was a topic of discussion at the Housing Authority's July 12 meeting, coming two weeks after the Affordable Housing Trust expressed a preference for senior housing on the site and suggested limiting the total number of housing units.

Town Meeting authorized building up to 26 units, which would give Carlisle a two-year veto power over high-density developments built under the state's Chapter 40B comprehensive permit process. The Trust recommends roughly ten fewer units.

In a June 26 letter to the Housing Authority, Trustee John Williams writes that "the Trust came to the consensus (unanimously, one abstention)." He adds, "Given the changes and significant controversy surrounding Benfield, we feel it is important for this project to be as enthusiastically supported by the town as possible. In short, community acceptance is important enough to forego some of the benefits of scale."

Williams spoke at the Housing Authority meeting, asking the neighbors to support the project with good faith cooperation. He asked both neighbors and the Housing Authority to be flexible.

Authority members discussed several options for the housing: family units versus age-restricted housing, standard versus assisted-living. In the coming weeks they will be filling out a questionnaire to help each member compare the trade-offs in order to choose the best type of housing for the Benfield parcel.

The Trust consists of seven members, five members of the Board of Selectmen, Greg Peterson of the Planning Board, and Jim Bohn from the Housing Authority.

Estimating the total size

Carlisle Administrative Coordinator Elizabeth Barnett created a chart comparing square footage for two- or three-bedroom family units with one- or two-bedroom senior units. She then pulled together some total square footage numbers giving a mix of either family or senior units, to illustrate how much area the housing might consume on the Benfield property. She stressed that the numbers are just estimates, and in fact changes to the assumptions were suggested later in the meeting.

Barnett listed two scenarios. For a 26-unit development of mixed two- and three-bedroom family units, about 37,000 square feet would be required. In comparison, she estimated that for a 26-unit development of one- and two-bedroom senior housing, only about 30,000 square feet, or about three-quarters of an acre, would be needed.


Her calculations were based on assuming: 1,261 square feet would be needed for a two-bedroom family unit, 1,500 square feet for a three-bedroom unit, 850 square feet for a one-bedroom senior unit and 1,150 square feet for a two-bedroom senior unit.

Barnett's estimate for a family housing development projected 13 two-bedroom units and 13 three-bedroom units, with parking, requiring roughly 55,000 square feet. This included roughly 47,000 square feet for living space and 8,000 square feet for parking, with one car per unit. The 47,000 square feet was an estimate for a one-story dwelling. This number was quickly divided in half as the dwellings are expected to be two stories. After some discussion, the parking area was increased by 5,000 square feet to accommodate two cars per unit. Rounding up the housing develoment would require 37,000 square feet (24,000 + 8,000 + 5,000 = 37,000 square feet). In all, this would require less than an acre of developed land.

The second scenario was a project for seniors only, with 13 one-bedroom units and 13 two-bedroom units. This estimate was roughly 34,000 square feet of living space, plus 8,000 square feet for parking. People felt most seniors living at Benfield would still have two cars, rather than one, so another 5,000 was added for parking. With two-story dwellings, the total estimated space for this project would be roughly three-quarters of an acre (17,000 + 8000 + 5000 = 30,000 square feet).

Housing Authority member Steve Pearlman said he was worried about the cost for the Benfield project. "I am leaning towards senior housing." He felt operating costs would be lower for smaller units.

Revisions suggested

Council on Aging (COA) Outreach Coordinator Angela Smith spoke about the greater need for two-bedroom senior housing. She said it was difficult for seniors to downsize from a home into a one-bedroom living space. "I would like to see 75-80% of senior housing to be two bedrooms."

COA Director Kathy Mull agreed with Smith. "Seniors want a bigger place to move into." She said seniors had other needs as well, stating that a number of seniors were moving out because they cannot handle the tax burden. She also mentioned possible future expansion of Village Court, the elderly housing located on Church Street in the town center. She could see new units at Village Court being slightly larger than the roughly 550 square-foot apartments that currently exist.

Mull noted, "Seniors are invested in this town and they'd like to stay here."

Assisted living

Housing Authority Chair Alan Lehotsky said he would push for assistive services at Benfield. Mull thought that would be a good idea as assisted living communities in the area are full.

While congregate housing was not specifically proposed for the Benfield Land, the Housing Authority discussed this alternative type of housing and how it might be used in the community. Congregate housing is a type of assisted living where there are a number of bedrooms, shared baths, and a common living room and kitchen under one roof. Barnett explained that these living arrangements are for people who may be recovering from some illness or injury, or who for some reason are not capable of totally caring for themselves yet and need some form of supervision or assistance.

When congregate housing is used for the mentally retarded, each bedroom can be counted as one housing unit towards meeting the state's 40B affordable housing targets. A five-bedroom house converted to a group home, would then count as five housing units. Barnett later clarified that while an entire development may be devoted to assisted housing for the elderly, that is not the case for the mentally retarded, where the preferred approach is to mix group homes throughout a town.

Deed restrictions

Before any housing can be built on the Benfield Land, deed restrictions voted by Town Meeting must be approved by several different government and private entities. The restrictions where the housing can be built, where one athletic field may be located, and which part of the 45-acre property is reserved for conservation.

Barnett reported that the restrictions are "in very good shape." The Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) has given approval. "We are working cooperatively with the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EOEEA) on the Benfield parcel conservation restrictions," said Barnett. The EOEEA will also need to approve the restrictions. She explained that through the process the format of the restrictions may be touched up to meet state requirements, but the substance of the restrictions remains unchanged.

Once the state has given its approvals, the town committees and non-profit organizations will be next in line to review and approve the document. These include: Community Teamwork, Inc. (CTI) who will hold the affordable housing restriction, the Carlisle Conservation Commission and the Conservation Restriction Advisory Committee, the Housing Authority, the Carlisle Conservation Foundation, which will hold the conservation restriction, Carlisle Recreation Trust, which will hold the recreation Restriction and the Board of Selectmen. The Housing Authority expects this process to be completed in late summer or early fall.


The Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) has determined that Housing Authority member Eugenia Harris has a conflict-of-interest in regard to the Benfield development, as she is an abutter. Harris will recuse herself on votes associated with the Benfield property. However, she may speak as an interested citizen during discussions about Benfield.

Building consensus

With regard to the Housing Authority's questionnaire on priorities, Barnett said, "We want to begin to build a consensus on what's important."

Chair Alan Lethotsky suggested that at the coming meeting, the committee create a list of what they need to do for the RFP and then set completion dates for all items.

2007 The Carlisle Mosquito