The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, May 21, 2010

Benfield Farms developers accept landscaping requests

The Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) heard ideas about landscaping and road construction when it met on Thursday, May 13 to continue the hearing for the 26-unit affordable rental property for seniors on Benfield Farms, South Street. The town-sponsored housing is to be built and managed by Neighborhood of Affordable Housing (NOAH), which has a permit application before the ZBA for the development. Under state law Chapter 40B, affordable housing developments may bypass most local zoning requirements and instead use the comprehensive permit process administered by the ZBA.

Landscaping includes fire-safe buffer

Per Carlisle Fire Chief David Flannery’s requirements, Mark Beaudry from Meridian Engineering, spoke about the need for a 30-foot “survivable space” around the development. A “survivable space” is part of the landscape design – akin to a fire-safe buffer zone – around the building that would ensure protection from fire running directly from an external source straight to the building. An example given by Building Inspector John Luther was that if a lit cigarette butt were thrown from a car window and started a brush fire along South Street, the materials used around the development should provide a safety zone versus acting as a catalyst for the fire to spread directly to the building from South Street.

Additionally, the fire chief, who was not present, said that one water cistern would be sufficient. An audience member commented about the National Fire Protection Association guidelines, which caution against developments using a single cistern because it cannot be shared by different systems relying on it, such as a sprinkler system. It was suggested that this item be clarified by Chief Flannery and left open for discussion at a future hearing.

Traffic study closed

Peer review engineer Steve Benz from Nitsch Engineering summarized the traffic memo provided by the applicant and said that the requests and information were adequate in spite of some years missing from the study (2003, 2005, and 2007). Applicant consultant Toby Kramer commented that they provided all the information available to them.

Landscaping to evoke rural past

At the request of the Planning Board, arborist John Bakewell of Rutland Street presented options for preserving the scenic vistas along South Street as well as suggestions of plantings to screen the development from abutters’ view. Bakewell began by saying the development “is going to be a conventional building with asphalt . . . It won’t blend with much of the landscaping in Carlisle.” He said, “There is risk in implementing a more formal, conventional landscaping. [My suggestion] is to plant trees, smaller in caliper to the stone wall that will fit in. Make it look like the neglected farmer’s field; not a large-space landscaping.”

However, he suggested that vines growing on trees near the road would damage the trees if left untended. “Currently, there is a lot of vegetation above the stone wall. It’s my belief that it may exist in five years, but it’s going to deteriorate. There are a couple of nice, choice specimen trees along the stone wall that should be highlighted and rescued from the vines that are attempting to kill them. The plan should address the fact that [some] plants are going to go away soon.”

Planning Board Chair David Freedman added: “Most of what is already there is Bittersweet and Honeysuckle that isn’t going to stay. Once everything goes, there won’t be any screening.” He suggested a landscaping plan showing which trees would be kept, along with a listing of how many trees and what species would be planted. Applicants Philip Giffee of NOAH and consultant Toby Kramer both inquired about getting specific recommendations. “I think we can work with the plan and with the suggestions,” said Giffee.

Abutter Martha McConnell suggested adding high-bush blueberries or a Hawthorne tree. “There are loads of things to attract wildlife that could be incorporated to make [the development] look more natural. There are thousands of things that could be implemented.” Giffee and Kramer agreed to accommodate the specific suggestions, even for someone to tag the trees and brush they want to keep and they will have the remaining foliage removed.

Roadway issues

ZBA Chair Ed Rolfe said that he believed that Beaudry needed to get an updated set of plans that included the roadway width. Flannery had recommended 18-foot width, but Freedman submitted that subdivision regulations require 20 feet. “The goal is to have minimally more width than is necessary,” he said, “so [the fire trucks] don’t scrape when they come in.”

The peer review engineer said that the turning radius at 20 feet is fine. Beaudry said that they would be comfortable with something less than 24 feet.

ZBA board member Kevin Smith asked Freedman about roadway widths previously approved in Carlisle. According to Freedman, Hanover Hill was the last subdivision approved by the Fire Chief and its roadway width was 20 feet. Freedman also said that Flannery had recently verbalized his concerns over the width. When Smith asked why the Fire Chief changed his position, Building Inspector John Luther offered that the Carlisle Fire Department did a test exercise at the Hanover Hill development and found that with the fire engine set-up at the entrance, no other vehicles – for example, an ambulance – could get by. Benz said that 20 feet is adequate with appropriate maintenance (e.g., snow removal). Applicant Giffee said that their current plan was for 22 feet and wondered if they needed to make a change. Beaudry said that they could “work something out.”

Planning Board memorandum

Chairman Ed Rolfe began by thanking the Planning Board members for their time and feedback regarding the details of the applicant’s plan, which they presented written up in a memoranda submitted to the ZBA. Freedman said the purpose of the memorandum was to “identify areas that we think require additional information.” Issues concerning signage dimensions for the development, the number of rain barrels for the property community gardens, solar panel usage and whether or not the project would be certified or certifiable with respect to energy storage standards, and location for snow removal storage topped the Planning Boards list of open issues needing more information. Kramer expressed frustration: “You want all this low-level data before we can even submit a plan?”

Smith reassured Kramer, saying that she did not need to offer any more information at all, but that the more information the ZBA gets, the better the decision is. “The ZBA might make a decision that might cost too much money, or that NOAH might not be happy with.”∆

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