The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, July 30, 2010

Benfield housing gets green light from ZBA

Nothing lasts forever, but the months of public hearings regarding the Benfield Farms 40B comprehensive permit application felt like a close approximation. Finally, at their July 14 meeting, the three members of the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) ceremoniously penned their names to the voluminous document. Thus ended a traumatic chapter in the history of Carlisle affordable housing. (See related article at right, for the next chapter.)

The Benfield Farms 40B comprehensive permit ran 49 pages and deserves some background explanation. The town purchased the Benfield property in 2004 for the combined uses of: affordable housing, conservation and recreation. Four years later, the Carlisle Housing Authority selected the non-profit firm Neighborhood of Affordable Housing (NOAH) to construct and operate 26 senior affordable residential rental units on a portion of the property. On October 23, 2009, NOAH filed an application for a Comprehensive Permit pursuant to the state’s 40B rules requesting approval to construct the housing within a single building, along with parking, landscaping and other improvements on land to be leased from the town.

The ZBA opened its public hearing on November 23, 2009. Sitting as voting members of the Board and present throughout the hearing were Edward Rolfe, chair, Kevin Smith, vice-chair and Kent Gonzales, clerk. Martin Galligan, associate member, sat as an alternate. Seventeen tortuous meetings later, the Board closed its public hearing on June 24.

According to Housing Authority Chair Alan Lehotsky, there are 89 seniors on the Benfield Farms “Interest list,” individuals who have requested an application and the opportunity to participate in the lottery, once they are available. The proposed Benfield Farms development will have 17 one-bedroom and nine two-bedroom units. Proposed as two connected buildings, a “farmhouse and barn,” it will have one elevator. It is expected that 22 of the 26 units will be affordable to households at or below 60% of the area median income (a.m.i.) The remaining units will be restricted to at most 100% a.m.i.

Most of the July 14 meeting was spent in reviewing the comprehensive permit page by page, correcting spelling errors and choosing more acceptable wording. Rolfe explained that there were three sets of revisions: NOAH’s marked up copy; ZBA’s version; and the copy edited by Town Counsel Rich Hucksam, Jr. of Deutsch, Williams et al. It remained to merge the three into one final document agreeable to all parties. One sticking point was the sewage disposal system, which normally requires an insurance policy, bond or other instrument to guarantee long-term operation and maintenance. After objections from NOAH’s Philip Giffee, Hucksam suggested that NOAH “be required to demonstrate to the Board of Health that they have sufficient financial reserves to guarantee long-term operation and maintenance of the system” and all agreed.

As a lead-in to final approval, the ZBA voted 3-0 to waive strict compliance to the Town rules and regulations, having found that waiving the rules and regulations does not harm the environment. Hucksam then carefully worded the final motion as a “vote to approve the comprehensive permit in the form of the latest draft with the revisions that the board has agreed upon this evening.” The audience hushed for the final tally and politely applauded when the three affirmative votes were counted. Associate Member Marty Galligan also voted yes, adding enthusiastic support even though his vote did not count. With a sigh of relief, Kevin Smith, Kent Gonzales and Chair Ed Rolfe signed the historic document and then prepared to enjoy what was left of their summer vacation. ∆

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