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FALMOUTH — Acknowledging it made a “fairly significant mistake” in approving the 2016 zoning changes that allowed for greater residential density and the creation of growth areas, the Town Council on Monday indicated it’s serious about rectifying the error.
The growth and density debate has simmered for most of the past year, as residents initially pushed back against the zoning changes. It more recently reached the boiling point when residents began questioning how and why they were made, with what some have said was too little public input.
At Monday’s meeting councilors agreed to move forward with two possible solutions, at least for the Residential A zones, which have seen the most impact from the zoning changes. A public hearing on both options is now scheduled for May 13.
One would roll back all of the dimensional standards in RA to what they were prior to the July 2016 rezoning, while making two- and multifamily units conditional uses.
The other would follow a recommendation made by the Long-Range Planning Advisory Committee, or LPAC, that increases lot sizes in RA while also making some changes to front, side and rear setbacks. This measure also includes making multifamily a conditional use in RA.
The council is also considering making any zoning amendments retroactive to May 3, in order to “stop the bleeding” and slow growth in RA, Council Chairman Caleb Hemphill said.
A majority of councilors on Monday came down on the side of a complete rollback to the pre-2016 dimensional standards – what Councilor Ted Asherman called the “easiest and most recognizable starting point.”
Asherman said for him it makes the most sense to “push back to where we were and then move forward from there.”
Councilor Amy Kuhn agreed, but also said she could be persuaded to support the LPAC recommendation, saince it’s virtually identical to a total rollback. What she most wants, she said, is to ensure is that the council addresses the “acute problem in RA.”
Councilor Aaron Svedlow also seemed to favor a complete rollback, arguing that the council “went too far” three years ago. But, he also said it would be important to get public input on both options, so he supported sending both to the upcoming public hearing.
Councilor Hope Cahan also said a complete rollback would be her preference. “The LPAC recommendation solves some of the real issues we’re having,” she said, “but it would be cleaner to go back to pre-2016 for now.”
After that’s done, she said, the town could take the time it needs to meet with different neighborhoods in RA and create more narrowly tailored subzones that address the specific needs of each neighborhood.
Councilors Andrea Ferrante and Claudia King both opposed a rollback to the pre-2016 zoning standards, but for different reasons.
“I find no merit in a rollback,” Ferrante said, adding she’s heard from residents recently who favor the changes made to RA, particularly in terms of their ability to subdivide lots and create opportunities for infill development.
King said she opposed a rollback to pre-2016 because that would immediately create non-conforming lots, which would result in numerous hurdles for property owners wishing to make improvements or additions.
Throughout the discussion Monday, Ferrante and Asherman, in particular, reminded their fellow councilors that their work would not be done just by making changes to the RA zone.
“It’s incumbent on us to take a hard look at town-wide zoning,” Asherman said.
“I feel like we need to look at everything,” Ferrante added. “We are in a time of change and transition.”
Moving forward, Svedlow said, “We need to systematically evaluate our communication policy, then review the Comp Plan and take a look at each zone.”