The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, January 22, 2010


Making progress on the Benfield 40B

We have been reading in the Mosquito recently about the progress being made in building state-mandated 40B affordable housing on the Benfield Land, South Street. It was in 2004 that the Town voted to acquire the 45-acre property, divided into four parcels designated for use as conservation, recreation and affordable housing.

As the Conservation Commission (ConsCom) looks into the impact that the 26 units of senior affordable housing will have on wetlands and water resources, the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) is dealing with the National Heritage Program which is responsible for the conservation and protection in Massachusetts of endangered plants and animals.

When I read the headline “Wildlife protection delays Benfield 40B” in last week’s Mosquito, all I could think of was the episode of a neighbor’s dog finding a Blue-spotted Salamander on the property several years ago. “Now what is happening, I wondered?” With that thought in mind, I called my neighbor, Sylvia Willard, Carlisle’s Conservation Administrator.

Willard explained that ConsCom had started public hearings on the Benfield Land 40B project in December (See “ConsCom begins Benfield 40B wetland review” in January 6 Mosquito). “This is an amazingly complex process,” said Willard. “Going through a permitting process for a 40B is very different from that of a normal subdivision, which goes before the Planning Board. The ZBA doesn’t usually have to confront storm water management and wetlands protection, under local bylaws,” she added. “That is usually done by the Planning Board.”

The applicant selected by the town, Neighborhood of Affordable Housing (NOAH), has presented its plan to build the 26 units on parcel 1, the closest parcel to South Street, while a well and leaching field are proposed for beneath parcel 4, on conservation land in the back of the property. “It is important that the conservation area look the way it did before the public water supply and leaching field are put there,” said Willard. “This an important issue. We want no structure back there; nothing that looks like a septic system.”

Willard assures me that environmental and public safety standards will be met. And the 26 housing units, which have been designed to look like a big farm house, are not going to look like a 40B cookie-cutter project that you may see in some near-by towns. Town Administrative Coordinator Elizabeth Barnett, representing the Carlisle Housing Authority, is working with NOAH to insure a Carlisle-compatible design.

So let’s be patient, all sorts of things need to be addressed before permits are issued, and this may take some time. Let’s give the town committees a chance to do their job. They are working on behalf of all of us – the citizens of Carlisle. ∆

Personal politics

By the time this article goes to print the special election for the U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts will be old news. The two national political parties will be recalibrating their strategies. The rest of us will have moved on to the things that matter in our daily lives: the schedules of work, family and personal activities.

A few weekends ago my daughter and I stood out at the Transfer Station holding a sign for our candidate in the bright, cold afternoon sunshine. My daughter became interested in politics during the 2008 presidential primaries. She took summer courses in Constitutional law, attended a national convention, and worked for her candidate in the fall, going door to door in New Hampshire. She loves to meet people and, win or lose, she remains upbeat about the political process.

As we stand by the paper dumpster at the entrance of the Transfer Station, we are joined by another volunteer, a semi-retired educator who has just had a hip replacement and this day sports a crutch. Cars slide by the dumpster, or stop and unload bags of waste paper. Most drivers glance at us and move along. We begin chatting with our fellow volunteer and soon discover shared interests, acquaintances and educational institutions.

Cars continue to edge past us. My feet and fingers begin to feel the bite of the cold. We get several waves of support. One passenger in a car gives us the thumbs down. We wave and smile anyway.

By this time we are deep in conversation with our fellow volunteer who is giving my daughter college counseling advice. He asks how she became interested in politics. She responds that one day she opened the political section of The Boston Globe and read about a young senator from Illinois.

After losing his first electoral bid for a seat on the Cambridge City Council, Tip O’Neill declared, “all politics is local.” I think it’s even more specific than that – all politics is personal. Generally, in the biographies of famous politicians, there comes a moment when some personal event tips their hand: working as a community organizer, a religious conversion experience, listening to King’s “I Have A Dream” speech.

Eventually, after we are thoroughly chilled, another volunteer arrives to take our place by the signs. Our companion on the hustings bids us a cheerful adieu, undaunted by cold or crutch. We thought we had volunteered to help our candidate. And perhaps someone, seeing our signs, might have been reminded to go to the polls and vote. Or it might be a critical turning point that, little remarked or understood at the time, will make a difference, years from now, in someone’s life.

Or not. Since then, of course, the earthquake struck in Haiti. Experts tell us to send dollars, not physical donations at this point. And here is yet another opportunity, an opportunity where a personal gesture has a much higher probability of changing the direction of someone’s life for the better.



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