Falmouth council aims to relax proposed growth limits

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FALMOUTH — The Town Council reviewed the draft Comprehensive Plan at a special meeting Monday night, and took issue with a recommendation to encourage residential growth.

The 10-year plan, developed by the Long-Range Planning Committee, provides a loose outline for what the town should do to achieve its abstract goal of “enhancing and growing community.”

Councilors generally agreed with the ideas set out in the plan, but criticized a call to amend the land-use ordinance to require that a maximum of one-third of the total residential building occur in areas designated as rural.

The draft also recommends spending a minimum of 75 percent of the capital investment plan on new municipal growth-related capital investments in designated growth areas.

The goal is to encourage growth in designated growth areas and preserve the town’s rural character, something that residents surveyed for the plan repeatedly placed as a high priority, said Theo Holtwijk, the town’s long-range planning director.

Several councilors said they were concerned about the plan being too narrowly focused by providing specific percentages for how much should be spent on certain growth areas.

“Being too specific about growth is problematic. We don’t want to hamstring developers,” Councilor Russ Anderson said, noting that restrictions on where investment can occur could inhibit projects the town may want.

And, “we don’t want to send a message to the rural areas that we’re going to let the road crumble,” he added.

Councilor Dave Goldberg said future councils can always loosen restrictions, but if the rules are initially too relaxed, the town could end up with unwanted development.

“I think having some limits on growth … is good,” he said. “But to have too many restrictions puts a burden on developers.”

Residential growth in rural areas grew 52.5 percent from 1990-2000, according to the plan. The target for the next 10 years in rural areas is 33 percent.

Councilors said the town should try to steer growth by providing incentives to developers, not necessarily restrictions on what can be built and where.

Vice Chairwoman Karen Farber said while the plan is a guide for the council, it’s important to remember that it is only a suggested way to implement policy.

“At the end of the day, I don’t think this tells the council this has to happen,” she said. “It’s a tool they can use.”

In addition to the discussion of growth, councilors also reaffirmed their interest in being the panel that assigns tasks to committees to implement plan priorities.

The three-volume draft includes more than 70 recommendations, focusing on commercial and economic development, conservation, housing diversity, communication, and clarification of ordinances and processes.

Holtwijk said he will make clarifications to the draft based on the council’s discussion and will meet with the Community Development Committee to review the plan again at their Sept. 23 meeting.

The council did not discuss the priority of the recommendations, but instead deferred the discussion until after they hear from the public at a meeting tentatively scheduled for Oct. 16. 

Will Graff can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or wgraff@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @W_C_Graff.