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Falmouth council OKs backyard chickens, train crossing 'quiet zone' improvements

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Falmouth council OKs backyard chickens, train crossing 'quiet zone' improvements

Revaluation unlikely, despite assessments below sale price

FALMOUTH — People who live anywhere in town will now be allowed to keep backyard chickens and other poultry.

And residents in farm, village mixed use and residential B zones with lot sizes larger than 40,000 square feet will be exempt from some restrictions on keeping birds.

The Town Council voted unanimously Monday night to approve a change to the town's ordinance that expands a previous decision to allow residents to keep hens, but not roosters, in residential areas.

It also expands the rule to exempt those in more rural zones from rules on fencing, setbacks and the size of chicken coops.

Train whistle 'quiet zone'

The council also unanimously approved spending $130,000 from the town's undesignated fund balance to improve railroad crossings and maintain a train whistle "quiet zone" through the area.

The improvements would add medians and plastic dividers 100 feet before railroad crossings to prevent people from going around the gates when they are down.

Town Manager Nathan Poore said the town would lose its quiet zone if it did perform the upgrades, because of a train-vehicle accident last year on Blackstrap Road.

Poore said that even if the Amtrak Downeaster service runs into funding trouble, the town would still have to do the improvements to keep the freight trains that already use the tracks from using whistles at the crossings.

"I think we probably still have a good reason to spend the money if Amtrak isn't expanded," Poore said, "but if it doesn't happen, I'll bring (this decision) back to the council for a check-in."

Revaluation

Councilors also heard from the town's assessor, Anne Gregory, who explained why she was not considering a revaluation, even though there are homes selling for less than their assessed values.

Gregory said 2010 was the first year the assessed value of the average home was more than the sale price, something that has continued in 2011.

"Property owners have been asking why we're not having a revaluation," she said.

The last town revaluations were in 2008 and 2003. Gregory said it would take approximately two years to do another revaluation, but that she does not recommend it.

If the town did do a revaluation, she said, it would ultimately end up raising the tax rate to make up the difference, and people would pay the same taxes on their homes.

Gregory said Falmouth is well within the state's recommendation for the ratio of valuation to sale price, and it is unnecessary to spend the money for a revaluation until that ratio increases. She said the town's strong real estate market has helped keep the ratio healthy.

"I'm surprised at how solid our real estate market is here," Gregory said. "I'm not discounting that there are people out there who are distressed, but we're still having a lot of sales."

She said the amount of time it takes for a home to sell is more than twice as long as it took in 2007, but still, homes are selling in Falmouth, and they're selling for an average of only 10 percent less than their listing prices, something that is not true in most of the rest of the country.

As a result, she encouraged the council to keep the valuation where it is for now, and plan on a revaluation in a couple years, when it would regularly be scheduled.

"I think we're OK, I really do," she said.

The council also held two public hearings, for a new rule prohibiting sex offenders from living within 750 feet of a school, and for a new fee to stay on the waiting list for a mooring at Town Landing.

No one spoke at either hearing.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or eparkhurst@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @emilyparkhurst.