Falmouth density fix in reach, rollback petition on target

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FALMOUTH — The Town Council is close to implementing a solution for the density bonus issues that caused it to impose a moratorium on multifamily housing developments in the town’s new growth districts last fall.

A public hearing will be held at 7 p.m. Feb. 12 on a proposal to equalize the minimum square footage required per dwelling unit, whether it’s a single-family, two-family or multifamily project.

The hope is that by making the area the same it will “eliminate the current bias in favor of the development of two- and multifamily housing over single-family,” according to a memo prepared by town staff.

The development moratorium was enacted in mid-November to counter what the memo calls “a surge” in two-family projects that resulted from an ordinance amendment in the summer of 2016 that essentially doubled the density allowed for such housing.

Under the proposal put forth by the council, the minimum square footage for each dwelling unit in the RA zone, which covers much of the eastern part of town, would be 10,000 square feet.

In the RB zone the minimum square footage required would be 25,000 and for the RD zone, which includes parcels in the area of Blackstrap, Brook and Leighton roads on the west side, it would be 30,000 per unit.

The town’s updated Comprehensive Plan calls for encouraging the diversification of the available housing stock in order to create more affordability.

Throughout the moratorium process, councilors reiterated they are still committed to that vision for Falmouth’s future, while also admitting that incentivizing multifamily development over single-family was a mistake.

However, many in town don’t support the new growth districts and a citizen’s petition is now circulating that would require a complete rollback of the 2016 changes to the town’s zoning ordinances.

Town Clerk Ellen Planer said 808 signatures are needed to force a June referendum on repealing the growth districts. Petition-gatherers have until April 17 to turn them in for verification.

Gray Road resident John Winslow is driving the petition effort and said this week that “we’re three-quarters of the way there” and he’s confident gathering the remaining signatures needed will be done “in plenty of time.”

Planer said Winslow’s group has already turned in 635 valid signatures and only needs 173 more.

Winslow said “people are still very upset” about the creation of the growth districts, which, he argued, “are drastically changing already-established neighborhoods.”

Planer said, “Once all the signatures are in we will have our lawyer write the language for the ballot question (that) will be submitted to the voters in June.”

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

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