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Falmouth councilor proposes relaxing development requirements

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Falmouth councilor proposes relaxing development requirements

FALMOUTH — Specifications for open space and buildable areas in new subdivisions may be relaxed if changes to the resource conservation zoning ordinance proposed last week by Councilor Fred Chase are accepted.

The current version of the ordinance was adopted five years ago, just as the real estate market was falling apart – which, Chase said, is why the problems with the ordinance haven't been an issue until now.

"It's a flaw. It has to be corrected. If it doesn't get corrected, the town is going to end up in court," he said.

The changes are proposed in two parts. The first is a change to the minimum buildable area on any lot.

Currently, the ordinance requires that regardless of lot size, 50 percent must be buildable. This means all steep slopes, wetlands, areas in shoreland zones and other restrictions must be less than half of the acreage for the lot to be approved.

Chase proposed that this be changed to the minimum buildable lot size already approved for each zone. Residential A zones require a minimum of 20,000 square feet and Residential B zones require a minimum of 40,000 square feet.

"My suggestion is that once we determine the buildable area, we go by the original zoning," he said.

Chase confirmed that he owns land affected by the ordinance.

"I can build five lots on my land, but I can't make two lots. I want to cut it in half and make two 10-acre lots, but I can't," he said.

Chase said he's going to go ahead with the five-lot subdivision and submit his plan to the Planning Board before his proposed ordinance changes are considered to avoid a conflict of interest.

"I realize that because I'm in the business, people will think I'm just doing this for myself. If I wasn't on the council, they wouldn't listen. I'm making this a priority because I'm a land owner, but I'm not doing this for my own benefit," he said.

The second proposed change to the ordinance is the open space provision, which requires developers to set aside 50 percent of the buildable area as open space. This provision was included to encourage cluster developments, rather than sprawl.

Chase said he believes the requirement is too restrictive and is proposing it be reduced to 30 percent of the buildable area.

"You'd still get the same number of lots, but would have a little more elbow room," he said.

He recognizes this change will likely invite more criticism than the buildable-area adjustments, but he said this is important to land owners.

"You can't deny people reasonable use of their land," he said.

Community Development Director Amanda Stearns will present a tutorial on the proposed changes to the Town Council at its meeting on May 24. The council is then scheduled for a workshop to discuss the issue.

Councilors will ultimately decide whether to send the proposed changes to the Planning Board for review and a public hearing.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or eparkhurst@theforecaster.net