Falmouth council urged to roll back zoning to pre-2016

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FALMOUTH — Residents at a public hearing Monday made it clear they want a rollback to the dimensional standards that were in place in the Residential A districts prior to a 2016 rezoning.

That means, they argued, starting with a clean slate as the Town Council deliberates the best way to address growth and density concerns that have been expressed for more than a year.

Many of those who spoke at the Town Council hearing repeated comments they made for the Planning Board on May 7.

That board recommended that the council consider the rollback, as well as a proposal by the Long Range Advisory Planning Committee to increase lot sizes, while keeping some of the other changes from 2016.  

The push for a fix to the growth and density issues caused by the 2016 zoning amendments started more than a year ago, and have now led councilors to consider a review and perhaps total overhaul of the 2013 Comprehensive Plan update.

The council is expected to take a final vote, including whether to make any changes in RA retroactive, at a meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 29, at Town Hall. Both options under consideration would also make two- and multifamily units a conditional use.

Prior to taking public comment Monday, Council Chairman Caleb Hemphill polled councilors on where they stood.

While all of them said they were eager to hear what residents had to say, the majority seemed to indicate a preference for a rollback, with Councilor Hope Cahan saying that “if things aren’t working out it makes sense to go back to the drawing board.”

Councilor Amy Khun agreed, saying she also favors a rollback. “It gets us back to a blank slate,” Kuhn said.

She also said she hopes going back to the beginning would get the town out of the adversarial mode it’s been in for months. Khun said what she most wants is “a productive, cooperative path forward” – something Councilor Andrea Ferrante also said she’d like to see.

Ferrante, however, expressed no opinion on which option would be better, arguing that either one would “make significant changes that would result in big differences in what’s been happening around town.”

Councilor Ted Asherman said there were “significant benefits” to both options, because both “attempt to rectify the situation.” However, he also warned that “what’s been built has been built” and there’s no going back.

Hemphill also said he could see benefits to both options, calling the LPAC proposal “very well reasoned,” but stating that the “rollback is certainly very easy to understand.”

Town Council candidate Valentine Sheldon, who also created the Save Falmouth website, argued Monday that the LPAC proposal would only “continue muddying the waters” and said the “best solution is always the simplest.”

In this case, he said, “the most responsible and best thing” would be a rollback to the pre-2016 zoning changes.

“We have a big problem and we need to regroup,” Sheldon said. “The 2016 rezoning is fatally flawed.”

When Sheldon’s wife, Michelle, spoke, she asked for a show of hands from those in favor of a rollback and then those who favor the LPAC proposal. A large majority supported a rollback; no hands were raised in support of LPAC.

Bart Ladd was one of the few to speak in favor of the LPAC option, calling it “a viable compromise,” as he described the rush he and his wife are now in to complete the division of their lot on Foreside Road before the rules change again.

He also warned that a rollback would bring the town “lots of lawsuits” and said that by going back to pre-2016, “you’re creating a lot of non-conforming lots that didn’t exist before.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 780-9097 or [email protected]. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Residents turned out at a May 13 public hearing on whether Falmouth should roll back the zoning in its Residential A districts to 2016.

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