The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, October 16, 2009

Benfield senior housing plans presented in community forum

The Housing Authority convened Wednesday, October 7, for a public meeting to update the community on the status of the Benfield low-income housing project on South Street. Housing Authority Chair Alan Lehotsky explained that the meeting would update residents on recent developments, particularly those pertaining to the septic system, and allow for further feedback on the project being developed by Neighborhood of Affordable Housing (NOAH). After summarizing the history of the project to date, Lehotsky turned over the floor to Peter Shaffer and Frank Valdes, architects for DiMella Shaffer, the firm commissioned to design the apartment complex.

Valdes reiterated the general concept for the complex. It will house 26 units in total, with 28,000 square feet of floor space altogether. “We have been trying to be contextual,” he said. “We’ve gone around the town and seen different buildings, and we’ve taken that information into account to use in our own architecture.” The building will have two main parts: a three-story “farmhouse” section, and an adjoining two-story “barn” section, complete with a “silo” which will house a stairwell.

Map of the senior affordable housing planned for the Benfield Land. (provided by the architects, DiMella Shaffer)

The first floor will have a two-story-high multipurpose community room. A laundry room, lounges and game rooms will be distributed throughout the facility, including a possible greenhouse on the third floor. The typical apartment will have either one or two bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen, a bathroom and a spacious closet.

Valdes then recounted some of the feedback town residents have provided. He said that requests so far have been for a community kitchen, an enlarged community room, a screened-in porch, a health room with medical equipment for house calls and inoculations, more lounge areas, a community garden and additional garden and maintenance storage.

Septic and well design questioned

Wayne Keefner, a civil engineer from Meridian, discussed the septic system with the attendees. He explained that the original site for the system near the road was determined to be unsuitable due to a high groundwater level. An area near the back of the lot has been selected for both the leaching field and the well.

Keefner explained that instead of using the traditional “mound” septic system, which requires a heap of earth over the leaching field, they would be employing the newer alternative “Presby” system, which is more efficient and does not alter the landscape. Some residents wondered about the legitimacy of this system, and expressed their concern, but both Shaffer and Keefner were adamant in their assurances that it would prove both safe and reliable, citing its state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) approval as a good indicator of dependability.

The other main concern was that the septic equipment would be an eyesore, but Keefner assured residents that there would only be one pipe above ground, in the back of the lot, and that it would be hidden to the best of the builders’ ability. Additionally, this pipe would not interfere with the planned construction of a paved road leading to the proposed playing fields on the land.

Bert Williams of Maple Street inquired as to whether the engineers would consider adding a second well as a backup water source in the event that the primary well were to fail. It was pointed out that most of Carlisle buildings do not have such fallback plans, to which Williams replied, “Yes, but most of the rest of town doesn’t have 26 units.”

Trail suggested to honor Native Americans

Doug Harris of the Narragansett Indian Tribal Historic Preservation Office, works to protect ceremonial landscapes in the state and recognizes the Benfield land as worth preserving. “There has been lots of discussion between our office and the Naragansett Tribe, the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, and others with regards to the ceremonial landscapes that exist to the east of all this . . . It would be interesting if there could be a walking trail that could incorporate some of those ceremonial elements.” Harris suggested putting in benches on this trail so that residents could use them “for meditation, and for enjoyment of nature in those areas.”

Lehotsky pointed out that building such a trail would be outside the scope of this project, and suggested that Harris get in touch with the Carlisle Trails Committee. Nonetheless, Shaffer expressed interest in seeing diagrams of possible ancient ceremonial areas to avoid interference.

Other concerns voiced

Residents in attendance gave a wealth of feedback, including suggestions to add community gardens, additional storage sheds, a screened-in porch, improved apartment layouts, expanded community spaces and enhanced parking options. Others had questions and concerns about air conditioning, weather precautions, and general safety and aesthetic issues. The experts present addressed each issue, and for the most part, residents seemed satisfied with their responses.

Responding to concerns that the buildings would be too visible and “hard to get used to,” Shaffer closed the meeting with an assurance that “the buildings are going to be – even if you see them – quite handsome.” ∆

© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito