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FALMOUTH — Questions raised by a resident last week about whether the town exceeded its growth cap allowance in 2016 are now being reviewed by the town attorney.
Theo Holtwijk, the town’s director of long-range planning and economic development, said Monday the town’s legal counsel is checking into allegations made by resident Valentine Sheldon that three years ago Falmouth “significantly exceeded” the maximum number of single- and two-family homes allowed under its annual growth cap.
Holtwijk said it appears to him that Sheldon is questioning how a part of the zoning ordinance, entitled “Rate of Residential Growth,” should be interpreted.
Sheldon presented the council with a letter from David Currier, a lawyer at Warren Currier & Buchanan in Portland, at its Feb. 25 meeting that Sheldon said supports his contention that the town violated its growth cap in 2016.
In the letter, Currier agrees with Sheldon that “simple math” appears to indicate there was an issue and goes on to state that at the very least, Falmouth owes “a duty of explaining these numbers.”
Currier also says if the town did indeed exceed the number of allowable units in 2016 “a conversation would be in order about the consequences of that violation.”
The council has a policy of not responding to public comment during the meeting, but this week Council Chairman Caleb Hemphill said “we are aware” of Currier’s letter and “we’ve taken note of it.”
Specifically, Holtwijk said, “we’ve asked the town attorney for guidance on how (the growth cap) is calculated,” adding he’s confident that “we followed the ordinance the way it was intended.”
Holtwijk gave no timeline for when the town might hear back from the town attorney on this issue, but the council is set to meet in public session at 7 p.m. on Monday, March 11.
Meanwhile, the council continues to wrestle with two thorny issues that have consumed much of its time in recent months: how to respond to pushback on new growth and density rules instituted in 2016 and how to best manage discussion and debate over big development projects.
The council held a retreat March 1 to lay the groundwork for a possible path forward on both issues and will hold another one on Friday, March 8, at 2 p.m. at Town Hall.
In addition, the Long-Range Planning Advisory Committee, or LPAC, is still hard at work trying to help the council come up with an interim solution to slowing growth while it spends more time devising a series of sub-zones for Residential A.
In terms of the debate over growth and density, Hemphill said that while the “council doesn’t want to promote things the community doesn’t want,” the difficulty has been getting a “better understanding of where the town is coming from and what the community priorities are as a whole.”
“We’re certainly taking notice that implementation of the Comprehensive Plan is being challenged,” he added. “The council is addressing this as best we can and we’re definitely taking it very seriously.”
Hemphill also acknowledged the time constraints and said councilors are working as “hard as possible to make progress and accomplish as much as we can in the current council year. We want a resolution and we’re working hard on it.”
Holtwijk said there are several paths the council could take to address the questions surrounding growth and density, but the first step is “trying to get a handle on all the issues. We’re well aware of the conflict and concern and we would like to address it, but we need to get our hands around it.
A new single-family home under construction off Longwoods Road in Falmouth. Concerns about growth and density have roiled the town for months.
The ability to build new multi-family homes, like this one off Middle Road, in already dense neighborhoods is one reason residents of Falmouth have been so vocal in opposing new growth and density zoning rules.