Housing Trust CPA funding request questioned

by Karina Coombs

The Community Preservation Committee (CPC) met on February 11 to review four applications requesting Community Preservation Act (CPA) funding. The group voted unanimously to recommend funding three projects: $10,000 for Center Park, $150,000 for the Elliott River Preserve and $152,000 for a boardwalk linking Spalding Field with the Banta-Davis Land. However, the fourth request, of $145,000 by the Housing Trust, generated spirited debate and is to be revisited at a later date after application revisions and follow-up meetings among the parties involved. Annual Town Meeting on April 29 will have the final vote on whether to fund those projects which are recommended by the CPC.

CPA funds can be used only for historic preservation, open space and public recreation and affordable housing. Funds are collected through a 2% real estate tax surcharge, with local revenues augmented by an annual state matching grant. Of the funds collected, 10% must be reserved for historic and open space preservation and housing, with the remaining 70% “undesignated” and therefore available to be used for any qualifying project.

“You have money to do what you need to do. You can’t do everything this fiscal year, but not all initiatives need to be done,” explained Finance Director Larry Barton. He encouraged the CPC to go over applications and pick which projects they wanted to fund, which fiscal year project funding would be applied to and which accounts the money will come from.

As of January 31 the CPC had account balances of $48,098 for historic preservation, $292,049 for community housing and $380,426 in the undesignated account. Barton explained that the committee also has five existing projects that have unspent funds. These funds will be returned (also called a “claw back”) to the CPC account if not spent by June, the end of FY13. As an example, Barton noted that $48,000 remained unspent for the Highland Building Restoration project.

Center Park

The CPC voted to approve an application for $10,000 to be spent over four years for the installation of plants and garden bed design within Center Park. The committee was concerned that some of the language used in the application suggested funds would be used toward maintenance of the park, something not allowed under CPA funding guidelines. Selectman and CPC member John Williams explained that the Selectmen were not requesting the funds for maintenance, merely trying to emulate what the Trails Committee does by taking a lump sum and using a little over a number of years. Williams will revise the application for clarity.

Elliot River Preserve

Explaining that their request for a state Local Areas For Natural Diversity grant had been denied, Sally Swift and Steve Tobin of the Carlisle Conservation Foundation (CCF) submitted an application requesting an additional $150,000 for land acquisition for the Elliot River Preserve for the current fiscal year. CCF had been awarded $150,000 in CPA funding in FY12, received an additional $20,000 from the Conservation Commission and $45,000 from its own foundation, but having failed to receive the state grant, more funding is required to reach their goal of $744,000. The plan is for the nine-acre river-front parcel to be owned by the Sudbury Valley Trustees while the town would buy a permanent conservation restriction. Swift noted that the purchase option on the property expires in June and will not be renewed by the owners. Tobin explained that the CCF continues to conduct private fundraising in addition to seeking additional CPA funding. The CPC approved the expenditure of $150,000 to come from undesignated funds toward the town’s purchase of the conservation restriction. Many CPC members noted that the land acquisition would be a benefit to the community.

Spalding Field to Banta-Davis boardwalk

Richard Amodei of the Recreation Commission (RecCom) submitted an application for $152,000 to create a boardwalk connecting Spalding Field to the Banta-Davis athletic fields, replacing the current walkway, currently in disrepair (See “RecCom proposes boardwalk to link Spalding Field to Banta-Davis,” January 5, 2011.) When asked about the life span of RecCom’s proposed boardwalk, Amodei explained that the pressure-treated wood should last 20 years and the steel components would last even longer. Because of the CPA maintenance restriction, Amodei noted that RecCom would have to build some money into future budgets to allow for maintenance of the boardwalk, but that probably would not be necessary within the first ten years after construction. The committee voted to approve the project. RecCom and CPC member Mark Spears noted that the bulk of the funds would not be spent until next year with construction beginning in August.

Housing Trust request stirs debate

Williams submitted an application to the committee for the Carlisle Affordable Housing Trust, co-sponsored by the Board of Selectmen, seeking $145,000 in current housing funds to be spent on the recently acquired Goff property and a number of studies on Banta-Davis Land (see “Selectmen support Housing Trust CPA application,” January 11). Of the total amount requested, $25,000 is to be used in the search for other properties within Carlisle that might be suitable for affordable housing. While acknowledging there were “a lot of positive things in the proposal,” Spears stated that the portion of the application that covered the Banta-Davis Land studies would be “contentious” and suggested the application be revised and resubmitted as two separate applications so as not to stall the development of Goff.

Spears explained that the RecCom was still highly motivated to expand recreational facilities on the Banta-Davis Land and believed that more people would come to Town Meeting supporting recreation than affordable housing, assuring the expenditure would not be approved. “[Banta-Davis] is an asset to the town. You are talking about a change in the value and future use of the property. We have plans for the property.” Spears went on to explain that he did not think housing and recreational facilities could coexist successfully. “One thing I can tell you,” said Spears, “in my experience, residential and recreational [uses] are incompatible activities. [They] have problems, undesirable problems and restrictions.”

Williams, in defense of the application, explained that it might be possible to develop housing on Banta-Davis in such an area so as not to impede recreational facilities. However, he explained that finding locations for affordable housing within Carlisle was of upmost importance to the Housing Trust. “With all due respect, we are trying to be proactive about housing. Banta-Davis is not owned by RecCom. Your vote is not needed. We are clear and remain committed to having no net loss of any fields and now that we have the Goff property it makes things easier,” said Williams. “Carlisle needs to show they are serious about family rentals. We want RecCom to be happy as well. We need the school and the Board of Selectmen, but we need [you] to be happy too.”

Spears noted that RecCom understood the need for affordable housing within Carlisle, but suggested that the requested CPA funds be used to look for more appropriate sites for development, locations that would not impact recreation and therefore gain more town support. Spears also said that he would feel more comfortable supporting the current application if the Carlisle School Committee was also on board. Williams explained that the Board of Selectmen was trying to work with the school as they still have an interest in the land for future expansion if needed. “We will use some of these dollars to look at classrooms for 300 or 350 students 40 or 50 years down the road.” The Banta-Davis Land is desirable said Williams, because, “We have a wastewater treatment plant there. It is a huge asset and we only utilize it to 1/3 of its capacity. It makes sense to have housing there and also [it] is in the center of town.”

Historical Commission and CPC member Ken Grady also expressed his inability to support the application if it meant community housing development on Banta-Davis that would impact recreation and substantially change the feeling of the town. More importantly, Grady was uncomfortable with the idea of spending a large sum of money on land studies, imagining it would be difficult to abandon the project after making such a large monetary investment in it. “How do we walk away from $150,000 in spending if [Banta-Davis] doesn’t really work? This presupposes it is the only option. I feel like this is the wrong place for community housing,” says Grady.

Williams responded, “We are being very unrealistic about 40B housing. We should all have learned by Benfield. [While] we might like the Carlisle way of keeping things small, by doing that we may end up with every 40-acre parcel as 40B. That would change the town a lot. We are looking at 800 units being added to the town and that is mandated and with no control. The worst-case scenario is raising housing units by 50%. If we are proactive and the town did it the way we want to, more efficient with rentals, we end up with 180 additional units. That is a big difference in terms of the town.”

Grady asked Williams if there were other better-suited sites given all the green space available within Carlisle. “We have looked and there is not a lot,” said Williams. “Every site has an array of problems and a militia that is there to defend it because it is the only place like it.”

The CPC agreed that it would be best not to split the Housing Trust application into two separate requests. Acknowledging that both the School Committee and the RecCom need to be in agreement regarding the application proposal, Spears and Williams suggested a joint meeting with the Housing Trust in the next few weeks. The committee will meet again on March 13. ∆