The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, May 2, 2008

FinCom supports all CPA requests

The Finance Committee (FinCom) on April 28 reviewed two large outlays recommended for Community Preservation Act (CPA) funding. Motion 7 of Warrant Article 21 for Town Meeting would provide $425,000 for Benfield infrastructure, and Motion 6 would provide $98,070 to replace the Veterans Honor Roll (see also “Article 21 – CPA appropriations,” page 7). The CPA committee had previously voted to support the two motions. After considerable discussion, the seven FinCom members unanimously recommended both motions to Town Meeting voters.

Why is infrastructure funding needed?

Alan Lehotsky, chair of the Housing Authority, explained that his committee is about to release a Request for Proposals (RFP) for development of 26 units of affordable senior housing on the town-owned Benfield Land on South Street. The Housing Authority had requested that $425,000 in CPA funds be applied to offsetting some of the costs of septic and water at the site. This would make it more likely that a developer could be enticed to take on the project.

John Williams of the Selectmen and Housing Trust reviewed the need for the town to take action on affordable housing.Under state law 40B, a developer with a project in which a quarter of the units are affordable can bypass local zoning in towns (such as Carlisle) where less than 10% of housing is affordable. Carlisle can achieve a two-year moratorium from 40B by adding 16 units of affordable housing. The Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) indicates that the planned Benfield development would qualify.

He noted the decision to pursue senior, rather than family, housing was driven by several factors. The neighbors had asked for a smaller footprint, and senior housing is 50% to 60% the size of family housing. In addition, there would be fewer cars and no school buses. Senior housing also responds to a rising need in Carlisle, where 17% of the population is senior currently, with more expected. Seniors are finding it hard to stay in the area, with Village Court limited, and facilities in neighboring towns developing multi-year waiting lists for out-of-town residents. Already, eleven Carlisle residents have expressed interest in living at Benfield.

Lehotsky then presented some numbers generated by a professional cost estimator. The estimates assumed 18 one-bedroom and eight two-bedroom units, although a developer would be free to build whatever mix he deemed most profitable. Comparing cost estimates to anticipated funding, it appeared there would be a shortfall of $400,000 to $900,000 on the project.

Fearful that no developer would respond to the RFP if the project were not more economically attractive, the Authority felt the need to sweeten the deal by offering to assume the $425,000 in infrastructure. The Town Meeting vote that authorized Benfield in 2003 included “up to $1 million for infrastructure and a playing field.” The Housing Authority used this as a guideline, subtracting what has already been spent on “investigating Indian stones and salamanders,” and reserving $500,000 for the playing field, to arrive at $425,000.

There is limited flexibility for making the project more economic. The land was purchased with CPA funds, so all units must be affordable. At the planned size, “the economic viability is borderline,” said Lehotsky, because fixed costs are spread over a small number of units. Reducing the size would make it “even less affordable” for a developer to take on. In addition, the state wants to encourage density, and probably would not fund a smaller project.

As for going bigger, the Town Meeting vote that authorized Benfield limited the development to 26 units. The Authority could return to Town Meeting for the needed 2/3 vote to change, but Lehotsky said that while “the neighbors are feeling very positive” about the project as planned, “frankly, I find it extremely unlikely there would be support for a larger development.”

Administrative Coordinator Elizabeth Barnett noted that green energy credits and other grants may be available that were not entered into the calculations. About a dozen companies have expressed interest in the RFP, a positive indicator. If there are competitive bids, the Housing Authority may not need to use the $425,000, although Lehotsky said “It’s very unlikely some wouldn’t be used.”

FinCom member Dave Verrill asked about maximizing revenues, and Lehotsky responded that “The town doesn’t get any revenue from these units.” The town would lease the land to a developer and the ongoing management and operation would be outsourced to a non-profit, so “there’s probably no tax revenue either.” Pressed to reconsider revenue possibilities, Lehotsky said a cell tower on the non-housing parts of the land might be possible. Barbara Bjornson suggested the land lease include only the land under buildings in case the town decides to do something else with the property.

Regarding the future of the housing plan, Lehotsky pointed to Hanover Hill which may eventually include 24 to 26 affordable units, and Village Court where an affordable expansion might be possible. Other possibilities include affordable accessory apartments and Department of Mental Retardation housing.

The total financial impact of the Benfield Land is not expected to go beyond the $425,000 and the land already purchased for $2 million. “I am firmly of the opinion if land plus $425,000 won’t do it, we can’t build it, said Lehotsky. “This is our best shot.”

Veterans Honor Roll

Doug Stevenson, Selectman and chair of the Veterans Memorial Committee (VMC), noted his group formed after the failure at 2007 Town Meeting of a more modest plan to upgrade the existing Veterans Honor Rolls on the edge of the Common. The Selectmen had not supported that plan, deeming it an inadequate expression of appreciation.

Over the course of the fall, the new committee outlined a general plan for a veterans honor roll of brass or other permanent material, with tree work, grading, and stone work included. Town resident Chip Dewing produced a back-of-the-envelope estimate of $98,070. Because of the roughness of the numbers, the VMC had originally asked for $115,000, but the CPA committee approved the $98,070 to come from “undesignated” funds, as those earmarked for historic preservation cannot be used for replacement of a historical item. If the Motion is approved at Town Meeting, a landscape architect will be employed to develop detailed plans.

There are currently several hundred names on the Honor Rolls of Carlisle veterans of the World Wars and Korea. Civil War veterans are honored by the rotary memorial and Revolutionary War participants by a plaque at the First Religious Society. The new Honor Rolls will be updated with participants in the Vietnam, Gulf and Iraq Wars, and so far 30 new veterans have been identified. To qualify for inclusion a veteran must have lived in Carlisle for 25 years. A web site has been set up where citizens can review the list and apply for inclusion.

FinCom Chair Dave Model said, “This seems like a lot to be spending when we have a sign that could get fixed.” Stevenson agreed, but noted the scope of the work goes beyond the memorial, and will include grading, tree work, and landscaping that will make the Common a more useful place for town events and gatherings. The memorial will be set back on the hillside so people can visit and read without fear of being hit by a car, as might be the case now. The bronze or stone memorial will be permanent, unlike the existing wood and paper memorials. “The CPA was established for community-type projects. The funds can’t be used for the school,” said Stevenson, adding, “We’re not talking about obelisks and howitzers, just a place where those who served their country can get due respect.” ∆

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