Friday, August 31, 2007
Affordable housing on the Benfield land: Have we forgotten the goal?
What has happened to the real goal of affordable housing on the Benfield land, namely getting two years of relief from developers who now can ignore our zoning bylaws to build dense developments, with only 25% of the units "affordable"? Two years of relief was a major selling point at the 2004 Town Meeting, where a two-thirds majority voted to build up to 26 units of affordable housing. Yet lately, we have been hearing about the possibility of a smaller development, after the Affordable Housing Trust recommended 16 units.
Why should Carlisle forego two years of veto power over new high-density developments that are sure to be proposed by 40B developers if the Town does not show progress by starting affordable housing amounting to 0.75% of the total housing units in Carlisle each year? Haven't we had enough of developers trying to override our local two-acre zoning? And what about the near certainty of lawsuits being brought against the town as the Zoning Board of Appeals tries to limit the damage to both our town's character and the groundwater we all depend upon? It was just reported in last week's Mosquito that a new 40B application might be coming soon. And where is the Coventry Woods 40B development heading?
To mitigate such damage and establish a clear set of guidelines, "a rigorous, rational set of requirements and requests," as suggested by Administrative Coordinator Elizabeth Barnett, should be adopted, to be imposed on applicants before the 40B process begins. But this is not a substitute for the ability to deny 40B proposals for two years that 26 Benfield units will give us.
It is understandable that the residents of South Street would prefer fewer units, or, even better, none at all, but the town approved the purchase of this land based on two years of 40B relief. Isn't the extra impact on the neighborhood from 26 units instead of 16 less than the doubled benefit to the town? In addition, because of fixed costs such as the access road and site preparation, the more units we build the more economical the project becomes and the less the town's subsidy will have to be.
Unlike the planned-for ballfield on the Benfield land, which shouldn't even be considered until the new Banta-Davis ballfields are approved and completed, there is an urgent need to start the affordable housing now. Whether the units should be for the elderly or younger families, whether they should be one story or two, whether they should be built for purchase or for rental, and how many bedrooms there should be in each unit, these are questions that the Housing Authority Trust should decide. But let's not lose sight of the real goal — we need two years of 40B relief, and on this there should be no compromise.
A funny thing happened on my way to the Forum
As I contemplated possible topics for this Forum piece, I realized that my stand-by list, which is not too long to begin with, has dwindled to a few loosely formed ideas and local anecdotes. Having been away or en-route in and out of town for most of the summer does not help much when it comes to keeping a locally rooted routine and high levels of community involvement, or an engaging perspective of my Carlislean experiences.
So I considered topics I feel I can relate to closely, like parenting and education. As a newly practicing "empty nester," while no longer involved with the local school systems, not even to a degree of driving my children daily to and from their schools or after school activities, I realized that I am just as involved as a parent — but driving much greater distances.
We returned home a few days ago from two consecutive college drop-off trips, each some seven hours in different directions. Summer ended with much of the same hectic rush with which it started in late May — packing, driving, unpacking and lots of launderingonly in a different order this time.
I now think about how my summer started with one long overseas trip and ended with another to a different part of the world, each of which preceded the college pick-up/drop-off trips. Even though my New England summer season started with a chilly Patagonian autumn and ended with a hotter-than-usual Mediterranean summer, I was hopeful there would still be plenty of locally grown stuff to write about — from the seasonal hit known as the Farmer's Market to my own gardening attempts.
Let's see then: This year I ended up missing the early blooming daffodils and blue hyacinths in my front yard, and the peonies had already passed their prime and battered down by each of the summer's many thunderstorms.
Following the traditional rule of (green) thumb around here, I patiently waited till after Memorial Day to plant a humble potager and a patch of annuals by my kitchen patio. I even tried to remember to water and weed in a timely manner. However, with so many rainy days, it was almost unnecessary.
But my modest gardening efforts did not take root for most of the season. In fact, and much to my surprise, it wasn't until I returned home from my last trip that I found an unbelievably lush, blooming garden with blossoms of mallow, lilies, coneflowers and New England asters. And in the herb patch, the mint took over and the dill and parsley, left to grow all summer without snipping, already went into sprays of bloom, which make them look lovely but rather useless for culinary purposes.
On my first weekend back home, after the mandatory stop at the Transfer Station and before a quick hop to the Post Office, I stopped at the Farmer's Market, which seemed to be bustling with fresh produce and people. Alas, this late in the season and after already reading about it in the back issues of the Mosquito that awaited me in the mail pile, it does not make such a fresh topic anymore.
And so, in an attempt to write about local roots and growth, I realize that this season went by without me around, and so I find myself recounting my "leaves of absence" instead.
© 2007 The