Falmouth council approves retroactive development freeze

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FALMOUTH — Members of the audience applauded Monday when the Town Council approved a development moratorium that temporarily halts two-family and multifamily projects in the town’s growth districts.

Most impacted by the moratorium, which includes a retroactivity clause, is Jim Cummings, developer of the proposed 32-unit Tuscan Way project off Blackstrap Road.

Although the project received final Planning Board approval last week, Cummings is “not permitted to move forward at this point” because of the moratorium, according to Town Manager Nathan Poore.

Cummings could not be reached for comment before deadline, but Poore said Cummings’ attorney sent a letter to the town “disputing the legality of a retroactive moratorium.”

At previous meetings, Michael Traister, who represents Cummings, has argued there’s no legal basis for the moratorium, because the situation does not rise to the level of an emergency.

Councilors said Monday their intent is to move quickly to make ordinance changes designed to fix an unintentional preference for multifamily development in the growth districts.

Even so, Poore said it could be late spring before any new rules are approved.

The goal is for the council to hold workshops prior to both its Nov. 27 and Dec. 11 meetings.

Those workshops, which will be open to the public, are slated to start at 5:30 p.m. both evenings. A final recommendation is expected in time for the council’s Jan. 23, 2018, meeting.

Meanwhile, resident John Winslow is moving forward with a citizen’s petition that would do away with the zoning changes the council approved in July 2016.

This week Winslow said he has personally collected more than 400 of the approximately 800 signatures needed to get the measure on the June 2018 ballot. And he’s confident the other 11 signature-gatherers have been just as successful.

“We want them to rescind the whole thing,” Winslow said of the growth districts. “The council never took into consideration the impacts” or whether increased density allowances are what townspeople want.

“People all over town are upset about this,” he said. “The council neglected to do its homework.”

On Monday, councilors said the decision to move ahead with a retroactive moratorium was one of the most difficult and most contentious issues they’ve faced.

The vote was 5-1 with Councilor Aaron Svedlow opposed and Councilor Karen Farber absent.

Even while supporting the development moratorium, the majority of councilors said they’re committed to the vision articulated in the town’s Comprehensive Plan, which calls for the creation of more diverse housing.

“I’m committed to remedying the oversight,” which created an incentive for multifamily projects, Councilor Claudia King said. But she said she also firmly believes in creating “diverse residential opportunities.”

In supporting the moratorium, Chairman Caleb Hemphill said, “I do feel the need to step back and reevaluate the consequences of the growth ordinances.”

But Hemphill also said he’s not against development and growth in town.

Like the others, Councilor Andy Jones said, “I’m not questioning diverse housing” and “I don’t want to move backward. I like the Comprehensive Plan vision.”

Councilor Andrea Ferrante said her vote for the moratorium was “in no way saying there’s anything wrong” with the goal of creating diverse housing options in Falmouth.

But, she said, “clearly a mistake was made and it really does need to be corrected.”

And Councilor Ned Kitchel said, “I’m not against growth, only the fit for (certain) neighborhoods.”

That’s why he voted for the moratorium, which he said would “buy time to create clarity about what we’d like to see.”

He also said that without the moratorium, “we may create an environment we don’t like.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.