The Town of Carlisle, a small CPA community in northeastern Massachusetts, is home to the Neighborhood of Affordable Housing, Inc (NOAH) Benfield Farms, an exemplary ground-lease, mixed-use CPA project. The town and partners from across the state celebrated a groundbreaking in May 2013. The 45-acre site has benefitted from Carlisle’s dedication to the holistic planning of the land, and the creation of separate restrictions for each use. Volunteers and town officials from recreation, conservation, planning, and housing backgrounds worked together to create a collage of uses that fills the needs of the town. The land hosts public-access conservation land and a 26-unit senior affordable housing development.
“It’s an integrated parcel; town leaders had the vision that all of the programs were planned from the very beginning,” says Elizabeth DeMille Barnett, Carlisle’s Housing Coordinator. A part-time employee of the Town, Elizabeth was hired to support the town on the Benfield project and to help the town implement its five-year housing production plan. Through this role, she has helped the Recreation Committee, Conservation Committee, and Housing Board to draft the three separate restrictions for the active recreation elements of the parcel (Conservation-Recreation Easement), the conservation land (Conservation/Public Access Easement), and the community housing village (Affordable Housing Restriction). This approach has granted the planners the flexibility to tailor allowances and restrictions to the specific use type.
When asked about Carlisle’s contribution, Elizabeth goes over the funding breakdown, but emphasizes “the sweat equity, which has been donated. Carlisle is barely a 5,000-person town,” she said. “[Benfield Farms] has benefitted from hundreds of hours of volunteer work, and free legal advice,” which helped the project win funding approval at three Town Meetings. The $11.65M project was funded with $2.65M in CPA funding, a 73% leverage of its CPA contribution.
A closer look at the housing development offers a window into the planning process. In contrast to a traditional approach, which would place the units in a denser downtown area, Benfield Farms planners prioritized a more rural experience. Carlisle seniors, a group mostly underserved by affordable housing options, expressed their desire to have playing fields located close to the apartments, and asked for a dedicated area to keep snowshoeing gear. The units also have access to community gardens, wildlife viewing, and recreational facilities.
Keys to Success
The apartment building, situated on 4.4 acres, is Carlisle’s first rental development in 30 years. Of the 26 planned units, 18 will be at 60% of area-wide median income (AMI), and 8 will be capped at 100% of AMI. Without a single ad for the units, and before construction, 109 seniors requested to have their names put on an unofficial waiting list for residency.
The building is designed to mirror the style of old farming houses in the area: a barn attached to a house.
The conservation-recreation land provides for uses that are largely for conservation purposes, but also allows for spaces for a public park or athletic field. Carlisle has appropriated $25,000 of CPA funds for planning and expects to eventually set aside an additional $475,000 in CPA funds for an athletic field. The conservation parcel, where recreation uses are not allowed, is already a popular destination. Wildlife observation decks, educational nature walks, snowshoeing in the winter months, and a town trail which leads to other conserved lands draws naturalists to the site.
Open Space: 26 acres
Affordable Housing: 4 acres, 26 units
Recreation Lands: 15 acres