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Falmouth council puts affordable housing on a back burner

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Falmouth council puts affordable housing on a back burner

FALMOUTH — The Town Council will give its pursuit of workforce housing a rest – at least for now.

At Monday's meeting, a discussion on future steps to bring affordable housing to Falmouth revealed most councilors wanted to put more time between a proposal for the town-owned property shot down last May and any new direction for a workforce housing committee.

The current committee, which hasn't met since councilors decided not to go forward with plans by Developers Collaborative for the Woods Road site, will be formally disbanded at a future council meeting.

During Monday's discussion, some councilors said they would like to see more done with zoning changes and compact development, providing areas of greater density that would accommodate modest housing on smaller, more affordable lots. Several said they liked the Cape Elizabeth model that requires builders to intersperse a percentage of affordable homes in new developments, avoiding a segregated affordable housing development. And some said they are hopeful the redevelopment and expansion of the Falmouth Shopping Center, and possible uses for the Lunt and Plummer-Motz school property, will be the means for furnishing affordable housing.

Last spring's decision by councilors to nix the Woods Road project appeared to be based on the cost of the project on what was considered a difficult property and its location away from development and public transportation.

But the council had limited the Workforce Housing Commission to pursuing options only on that one site.

And councilors chose not to go forward more than a year after the Developers Collaborative first warned of the added expenses related to the site, developer Kevin Bunker said Tuesday. In the firm's original proposal, dated April 23, 2008, the developers said tax increment financing would be needed and proposed $1.2 million over 30 years, Bunker said.

In addition, he said they explained the project's elevated cost was due to problems with the site, and recommended considering an alternative for the project.

But even using the Woods Road property, Bunker said Developers Collaborative was clear that a TIF would capture dollars that would have flowed out of Falmouth anyway – an amount estimated in a presentation to the council last year to be 65 percent of every dollar of tax revenue.

But when councilors looked at the figures, they also considered the cost to the town of children in the school system – a cost that would exist regardless of the specific project, Bunker said.

"When you say, 'we want workforce housing,' are you saying you don't want any kids in it?" Bunker said.

As the Woods Road project developed, Bunker said he saw a "not in my back yard" reaction start to "boil up."

"Workforce housing doesn't necessarily have it's own constituency," Bunker said. "If a project like this goes away, no one's going to come and rant and rave at council meetings."

Long Range Planning Director Theo Holtwijk said Tuesday that he recalled the suggestion of a TIF in the Developers Collaborative proposal and said its inclusion of financial information was one thing that put the firm ahead of its competition right from the beginning.

"My sense is (the council) has a lot on their plates and  what I heard (Monday night) is councilors still feel it's an important topic, but they've spent a lot of energy on it and were not sure what the next step should be," Holtwijk said.

The 2000 Comprehensive Plan addresses affordable housing and lays out steps the council should take, Holtwijk said. Councilors on Monday discussed requesting the Long Range Planning and Advisory Committee make the discussion on affordable housing a top priority as it seeks to update the plan.

Peggy Roberts can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or proberts@theforecaster.net.