The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, May 22, 2009


Communication is key

After working hard for years just to get Benfield Farms, the town’s first affordable project to the starting gate, the Housing Authority is understandably jittery about the tougher new regulations being considered for adoption by the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA), which administers comprehensive permit applications for projects like Benfield.

Coordination is difficult for Carlisle’s boards, whose volunteer members work other jobs during the day and can have difficulty finding time to read extra legal documents and attend other board’s meetings in addition to their own. However, this is a case where it is important that officials make every effort to communicate and, where possible, reach consensus. The stakes are too high for the town.

Many feel that stricter local regulations would have helped the ZBA deal more efficiently and effectively with the Coventry Woods 40B application two years ago. The ZBA had questions about the impact of the proposed 56-unit development on the water supply of the abutters and had difficulty getting answers from the applicant.

Town boards oversee development projects in order to protect the health and safety of residents as well as to protect the town’s natural resources. Protecting the water supply is vital, but it can be harder to understand a project’s effects on the local aquifer than it is to predict its effects on traffic patterns or the school bus routes. For this reason, the new regulations call for the applicant of a high-density development to provide additional data and defray the cost of technical experts hired by the town to help evaluate a 40B application.

Housing Authority Chair Alan Lehotsky says he is not against tougher regulations, but is concerned they will not stand up under appeal if they are more strict than those governing standard subdivisions. He also worries that the additional costs involved in complying with the new regulations will discourage non-profit and very small-scale 40Bs that the Housing Authority might try to build in the future.

The various town boards have different goals and perspectives. ZBA and Planning Board members have vivid memories of concerns regarding the one-time Coventry Woods and Carlisle Woods 40B proposals. On the other hand, the Housing Authority talks regularly with Carlisle seniors and others who have a pressing need for affordable housing. The authority’s mission is to help meet that need. When asked about water resources, Lehotsky did not focus on the impact of high-density housing, but rather asked why the town zoning allows construction of an 8,000 square foot single-family home with a pool, but would prohibit a 4,000 square foot duplex on the same piece of land.

Most Carlisle officials both want to protect the water supply and avoid increasing town administrative costs and the town as a whole has expressed a desire to create affordable housing. Town Meeting bought the Benfield Land for housing as well as open space and recreation, and also voted to spend up to $425,000 to subsidize infrastructure for the senior affordable housing project. If it takes a little extra time to ensure the new regulations help Carlisle meet all these goals, then it will be time well spent. ∆

[See also, “Housing Authority worries about 40B regulation rewrite.”]

Business as unusual

Town Meeting and the elections are over, and, as always, it seems to me that these events are harbingers and programmers of another working year. We get our money and our people and we put them to work. This time, however, there is no sense of going back to business as usual, here or anywhere else. Nationwide, business is being shocked, reshaped, retooled and re-envisioned. Carlisle is reshaping, retooling and re-envisioning too. Do we have more on our docket than usual? It seems to me that we do. With 35 Warrant Articles, a Town Election and a raft of challenging issues associated with the squeezed economy, we have created the new conditions under which we will operate for the next several years, and they are, to say the least, complex and far from usual.

We have given ourselves an unusually large assignment with built-in demand for i-dotting and t-crossing. How will we construct a cost-efficient-to-the-penny plan to build a new school complex that will serve the community for many years to come? How can we best use the Highland Building, re-envision its spaces to fit that use, and fund its rehabilitation? How much autonomy or shared governance will exist with new plans to restructure the educational administration? How will we draft new bylaws to cover the way we will structure and use alternative energy resources? A good portion of this year’s work is pioneering, and that is never business as usual.

While grappling with innovation in some areas and many other tasks as well, we will welcome, as usual, new members into committees and boards and create new cultures there. We will also face, however, the departure of our Town Administrator, our school business manager, and other key support personnel, so, as a town, we are looking at a period of sweeping changes.

There are changes sweeping our individual lives as well. Many of us are out looking for work, managing with sharply reduced incomes, and feeling less secure than perhaps ever before. There is certainly enough challenge to go around. Not a whole lot seems usual, anywhere.

We all want to preserve certain things in our lives and in our town. We also want to move forward with our lives to secure our futures, and to push the town forward so that it will always be a welcoming place in which to live, to raise families and to retire. This year in particular, we need all the community energy, new ideas, advice and practical solutions we can muster to make those things happen. I don’t think the phrase “desperate times require desperate measures” quite describes what we are up against, but we cannot sit back after Town Meeting and the election this year, assuming a return to business as usual. This is business as unusual, and everybody’s help is needed.

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© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito