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FALMOUTH — Town councilors are showing support for a committee proposal to create multiple sub-zones within the Residential A zone as a way to address residents’ density and growth concerns.
In the meantime, councilors said Monday, the town will likely move forward on adopting short-term measures designed to keep property owners from subdividing their larger lots for new housing development.
While public comment was not allowed during the council’s discussion with the Long Range Planning Advisory Committee, or LPAC, several residents addressed the issue at the start of the Feb. 25 meeting.
Michelle Sheldon called on the council to institute a moratorium on new residential construction in the RA zone until the issues surrounding how much density should be allowed can be resolved.
Sheldon also said the zoning changes made in July 2016 were “not the right decision” and going forward it would be “more appropriate” to implement zoning measures that better “reflect and protect the character of the town.”
She said the town is facing “an unprecedented situation” and her fear is that if something isn’t done to better control growth and density Falmouth could turn into Scarborough, which is “not what any of us want to see.”
Another resident said she would support a moratorium and argued LPAC should not just rubber-stamp ideas that come out of the town’s planning office.
Concerns about increased growth and density came to a head in spring and summer 2018, when a petition circulated that would have overturned the zoning amendments first implemented three years ago to create designated growth areas in town.
That petition got nearly 900 signatures, but was deemed invalid by the town attorney and so was not voted on during the June 2018 municipal election. However, the Town Council did commit to reviewing the new zoning to see what could be done to alleviate the development pressure.
That’s where LPAC came in. It held a public forum this past November and hopes to hold another one in the coming weeks to get input from the community on how to best address the concerns around growth.
LPAC is scheduled to meet again at 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 28 at Town Hall and the Town Council next meets on March 11, but no specific date for a second public forum on growth and density has been set.
On Monday, LPAC Chairwoman Breana Gersen said her committee has been trying to determine if there is a better way to address new housing, particularly in Falmouth’s RA zone.
She said the committee has received a lot of public input in recent months, but the option of creating sub-zones in RA would require a lot more time to analyze.
That’s why LPAC suggested that making a single modification, based on lot size, could be a good interim step.
The issue LPAC keeps running into, Gersen said, is that there are over 40 distinct neighborhoods within the RA zone and many of those have their own history and character that doesn’t translate well to other areas of town, so going with sub-zones seems to make the most sense, she said.
Councilor Aaron Svedlow said he understands that having multiple distinctive neighborhoods in one overarching zone “makes it very challenging to regulate” both growth and density.
Some neighborhoods may welcome smaller lots and increased density, while others want breathing room between homes, he acknowledged. Svedlow also agreed with Gersen that creating sub-zones would be “a much longer-term process.”
His idea, which at least some councilors seemed to support, was to tweak all of RA to limit the lot width allowed. “This could alleviate many of the concerns,” at least in the short term, Svedlow said.
Councilor Amy Kuhn agreed and said it’s incumbent on the council to “do something incremental to prevent further degradation” of neighborhoods around town.
“I don’t want to homogenize the entire RA zone,” she added, “but we need a short-term solution to alleviate the immediate pressure.”
Councilor Claudia King wondered if changing only the lot width could be the fix that everyone’s looking for. At the very least, she said, it would be a “responsible and measured” approach to take in the short run.
Councilor Hope Cahan said the sub-zone approach requires “further analysis” but agreed with others that “we also need to do something right now so that larger lots don’t continue to get subdivided.”
While Councilor Andrea Ferrante agreed that residents’ concerns should be taken into account, she also cautioned that current zoning rules are “the laws we put into effect” and people have made plans based on those ordinances. “It’s important to be respectful of that,” she said.