FALMOUTH — Two projects, one on Blackstrap Road and another on Middle Road, would create housing development not previously seen in town.
That’s a reason the Town Council is considering a moratorium on two-family and multifamily projects in Falmouth’s new growth districts.
Created in the summer of 2016 under the town’s updated Comprehensive Plan, the rules covering the growth districts were initially designed to bring a diversity of housing types to town.
But public reaction to the projects shows that the council moved “too far, too fast,” Councilor Karen Farber said last week.
In weighing whether to impose a moratorium that would bring a temporary halt to these dwellings in certain areas of Falmouth, the council is also considering making the prohibition retroactive.
Residents at a special meeting Monday urged the council to go back as far as 2016 to stop a 32-unit project off Blackstrap Road, which is being developed by Jim Cummings.
But when Cummings spoke to the council Monday, he said it would be patently unfair, unprecedented and not good business practice to change the rules midstream.
His project has already received preliminary approval from the Planning Board and is slated for a final vote in early November.
Tuesday Cummings said he can understand the town feeling it made a mistake.
“It’s fair for them to take a step back, but not to blindside me 14 months in,” he said.
At Monday’s meeting, Cummings said he’s already invested $500,000 in his project.
Also Monday, his attorney, Michael Traister, said a retroactive moratorium would not be fair because Cummings’ project has already received “substantive review” and Cummings proposed the project “under the ordinances and acted in good faith.”
Traister also encouraged the council to “consider the broader policy and precedent. The business community needs stability, which means not changing the rules after the fact.”
If the council wants to revisit the zoning ordinances governing the town’s growth districts, Traister said it can do that, but “it shouldn’t be retroactive. (That) would be an unusual and unprecedented step.”
Adrienne Fine, Cummings’ engineer on the Blackstrap Road project, which is called Tuscan Way, also argued against a retroactive moratorium Monday.
She said the development is specifically “designed to meet the purposes of the new ordinances” and that it’s gone through “a rigorous Planning Board process.”
“(We) followed the ordinances to a T,” Fine said. “Don’t go retroactive on a project that’s near to final approval.”
Real estate agents Tim and Marie Flaherty also spoke in defense of Cummings Monday, with Tim Flaherty calling the proposed moratorium “an over-reaction.”
And Marie Flaherty said Cummings’ development answers the town’s call for “more diverse and affordable housing.”
She also said it responds to a segment of home buyers looking for “low-maintenance living.”
Flaherty said that Cummings has been “unfairly targeted” and that the council’s proposed moratorium “should matter to every landowner because it sets a dangerous precedent.”
Without weighing in on the merits of either the Tuscan Way or Middle Road projects, Christopher Hickey, a former member of the Planning Board, spoke up generally in favor of new development.
“If you don’t allow new development, you stifle the ecosystem that makes up the community,” he said.
In remarks following Monday’s public comments, Farber said “development is going to happen whether we like it or not. Our goal is to direct and control (that) growth.”
And in defending the moratorium, which was her idea, Councilor Claudia King said implementing the measure “is in no way a knee-jerk reaction” or an action that the council takes lightly.
In the end, the council agreed to move forward with two moratorium proposals; one would include a retroactivity clause, while the other would not.
Signs opposing a 32-unit condominium project off Blackstrap Road in Falmouth have popped up in the neighborhood as the Town Council is considering a moratorium on two-family and multifamily housing developments.