The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, March 27, 2009

Selectmen confront affordable housing issues

Affordable housing development issues continue to concern Carlisle. If the Board of Selectmen (BOS) decide to endorse the Local Initiative Program (LIP) regulations as presented by the Planning Board at the March 24 BOS meeting, the Selectmen will have even greater involvement at the onset of a 40B affordable housing project. Given the reaction of South Street residents on hand to comment on the Benfield elderly housing project, residents rely on local government to regulate development.

Due to procedural and time issues, South Street residents felt unable to voice their concerns at the last BOS meeting on March 10 during a presentation by Neighborhood of Affordable Housing (NOAH), the firm chosen to develop the Benfield senior housing project. Residents appeared in full force at the “Community Input” time block set aside at the start of the March 24 meeting.

Alan Carpenito recused himself as a Selectman to comment as a resident of 493 South Street and abutter to the Benfield property. He spoke of his concerns about the way the request for proposal process had ensued initially without input from the Planning Board, Board of Health, or the entire BOS. With a project of this “nature and magnitude,” he said, there should be “input by town boards.” Frank Proctor of 532 South Street spoke of the absence of “neighborhood input” in the process. Juergen Lemmerman of 548 South Street voiced concerns about the proposed location of the septic system and proximity to already installed abutter wells. Numerous residents unable to attend the meeting wrote in their concerns about the septic issue and requested better access to project bidding materials. Chairman Doug Stevenson read from the letter of Ray Kubacki of 438 South Street about how a three-story building would be a huge building on a country road, and would be as disruptive to the bucolic neighborhood as the “huge McMansions” the town’s purchase of the land hoped to avoid.

Housing Authority Chair Alan Lehotsky defended the bidding process. He pointed out that he had asked Town Administrator Madonna Mackenzie about the need for other boards to review the request for proposals, and was told that it that it would be unusual and was not expected this early in the process. Mackenzie concurred that this had happened. The relevant town boards will all have the opportunity to review the actual project plans as the Benfield project gets underway.

The South Street residents left after voicing their concerns. They would have found the subsequent agenda item, “Planning Board – Proposed New Regulations,” intriguing.

Streamlining regulations

Planning Board Associate Member David Freedman introduced regulations for both the Selectmen’s LIP and the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA), which represent nine months of work by town committees and the experiences of “lessons learned in the fires of the 40B process.” The two documents closely follow each other, and thus provide uniform guidelines for the review and acceptance of comprehensive permit applications for “40B” housing, which has state-level support for exemptions from many zoning board restrictions.

Attorney Jon Witten, a consultant to the project, spoke at the meeting to endorse the acceptance of the documents which he believes can reduce appeals from developers and save the town “a small fortune in litigation fees.” Furthermore, the Selectmen will be able to obtain financial information early on about the project, which state regulations prohibit the ZBA from obtaining when considering proposals. Carpenito acknowledged a “benefit to the town” with the Selectmen having the ability to negotiate with a developer before a project goes to the ZBA.

Stevenson wondered about the hurdle that developers would encounter in needing to meet with the Selectmen first and then going to the ZBA. Witten acknowledged that two presentations are needed, but that the required information would be the same so the costs would not be doubled.

Selectman John Williams wondered about the effect of adopting these new regulations that preclude having more than six units in one building. (The Benfield housing has 26 units planned for one building.) Witten responded that all local regulations would be waivable by the ZBA. The endorsement of the BOS on this and any project based on benefits to the town would carry weight with local boards and at the state level.

Greg Peterson, Chairman of the Planning Board, pointed out that it would be difficult for the ZBA not to grant waivers for town-sponsored projects that have “been the subject of Town Meeting votes.” Nonetheless, he stressed the importance of high standards. “It’s our view that Carlisle is quite unique,” he said. “We don’t have a piped water supply.”

Selectman Tim Hult wondered if too strict requirements up front might lead to appeals later on. Witten did not believe that would happen with a clear process in place.

Freedman felt all boards needed to have clarity and consistency in their regulations. For example, the state regulations allow commercial development to be part of a 40B application. Without regulations, he quipped that a developer could say “to make a project commercially viable, we need a Walmart!”

The Selectmen acknowledged the work done by various committees and personnel in pulling together the proposed regulations. They will take time to review the documents, and will decide on whether to adopt the LIP process in about a month, as the agenda for the next meeting is already full. ∆

© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito