The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, September 19, 2008

Opinions

Batters up for Carlisle’s AAA (affordable accessory apartments)

It has been a long road, but it looks like the town’s affordable accessory apartment (AAA) program is nearly ready for business. Carlisle approved its AAA bylaw at Town Meeting in 2006, but it has taken another two years to iron out the details with the state. According to the town’s Administrative Coordinator Elizabeth Barnett, the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) approved the town’s AAA program on August 19 and has given the green light to begin implementing the program.

A homeowner with an AAA may receive a subsidy of up to $15,000 in exchange for renting to qualifying low-income tenants. Participants agree to deed restrict their property for 15 years, but may withdraw from the program sooner, either when their tenant’s yearly lease expires, or if the property is sold. Homeowners interview and select tenants in cooperation with the town, which will advertise and maintain a list of qualified “Ready Renters.” The town will also annually recertify the income eligibility of tenants.

The program appears flexible enough to meet the requirements for fair and equal opportunity housing, while allowing homeowners an opportunity to opt out early if needed. A homeowner may choose to leave the program, for instance, to rent the apartment to a relative, or to rent to a person who is not income-eligible. The homeowner may be asked to return part of the AAA subsidy, but may re-enroll in the program in the future.

Affordable accessory apartments count toward the town’s 10% affordable housing goal. Until the town reaches this state-mandated target, it remains vulnerable to high-density developments filed under the state’s 40B comprehensive permit statute. A 40B development is allowed to bypass most local zoning regulations as long as 20 – 25% of the units built meet the criteria for affordable housing. Carlisle needs about 170 affordable units to reach the 10% goal. At the moment, there are only 20 units that qualify. The town’s Benfield senior housing, once built, will add another 26.

The Housing Authority, Selectmen, Planning Board, the administrative coordinator and others have worked many, many hours to provide a creative, inexpensive way to increase the town’s affordable housing. Hopefully, homeowners with accessory apartments will give serious consideration to this valuable program. For more details about the AAA program, call Barnett at 1-978-371-6694. ∆

Ornithological anecdotes

The sight of migratory birds flying southbound in formation, crossing the skies on a crisp autumn morning, has always evoked in me a sense of restless excitement, feeling closer to the wilderness and the passage of time and place.

Growing up in Israel, I watched huge flocks of storks and cranes soar through the skies, following ancient routes as they crossed the narrow airspace from Europe and Africa between the Mediterranean Sea and the Syrian-African fault. Years later, half the way around the world, I would see Canada Geese flying in formation over my house.

Here in town I used to hear the loud honk of geese almost daily on early fall or spring mornings. On occasion I would see them overhead, crossing the skies in an almost perfect V formation. It always brought back distant childhood memories, and like the changing foliage, it signaled the change of seasons and the passing of time.

So, recently, when a script of a short documentary I was working on called for visualization of changing seasons, I thought of the passing geese flocks. I would look for that familiar V in the sky or that distinct geese call, expecting to have just enough time to pull the camera out of its case, hit the Record button and, well, shoot them with my video camera as they cross that patch of open skies over my house.

Alas, fall and spring came and went, and with this fall already approaching, it suddenly struck me that I haven’t heard or seen any geese flying over the house for a while. The only noticeable sound increasingly heard in the woods nearby is the loud cry of crows.

Canada Geese have for centuries followed migratory routes from their Arctic breeding grounds to warmer wintering locations in the southern states and even in parts of Mexico. In the 1930s growing live geese as hunting decoys was banned, and flocks of domesticated geese were released into the wild. With no inherent migration patterns, these geese remained to winter in the area and began nesting and establishing local feeding habitats.

According to local bird expert Ken Harte, the birds I used to see until the last couple of seasons were most likely part of the resident, non-migratory population, which moves locally from one feeding or resting location to another.

The 2007 Concord Christmas Count of the resident Canada Geese totaled 1,138 geese, the lowest count in 10 years. However, Harte was hesitant to identify my randomly observed route changes as the result of excessive development, Hanscom Field expansion or invasive plant eradication (such as state-wide programs to eco-biologically control invasive purple loosestrife) and suggests waiting for this year’s count before calling the recent significant drop a “trend.”

Lo and behold, last week, while covering a tech conference in San Francisco for yet another documentary project, I came across an innovative technology startup called Birdpost.com, which caters to the needs of the estimated 18 million birdwatchers nationwide. It combines satellite mapping technology with a versatile online platform to chronicle, organize, map and share birding activities. The cumulative data gathered by Birdpost will eventually create “natural histories” of local habitats, and may offer communities the necessary tools to better understand and protect birds and their environment.

The seasons are changing and I still have not captured that captivating image, although maybe now I can find out where the geese have gone. ∆

 

 

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