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FALMOUTH — The town has not reached its housing growth cap for the past two years.
But a review by the town’s Long Range Planning Advisory Committee says there’s still a perception the town is growing too quickly.
The panel must now address the disconnect between the data and the sense that zoning changes made in 2016 to comply with the updated Comprehensive Plan have resulted in too much new growth.
“I’m very sympathetic to the perception that things are changing quickly,” Council Chairman Caleb Hemphill said Monday. “And I understand that some neighborhoods are seeing a disproportionate amount of change, but I still believe in directing growth” to certain areas of town.
The Long Range Planning Advisory Committee made its initial report to the council Monday, following a well-attended Nov. 15 public forum on growth and density. The forum was held as the result of a citizen’s petition in the summer that called for overturning the new growth districts.
Addressing the council this week, Breana Gersen, head of the committee, said the zoning changes made two years ago were done to “prioritize resources and minimize tax impacts.” The intent, she said, was not to increase development, but to direct it.
When creating the growth areas, the town decided that growth should occur where density and services were already present to protect Falmouth’s more rural areas, Gersen said. She said prior to 2016 most of the residential development in town was occurring in the rural districts.
She said in deciding where to put the growth areas, the town considered a variety of factors, including the location of already established residential neighborhoods, water and sewer services and “high-value natural resources.”
Overall, Gersen said, “new growth enabled by the July 2016 (zoning) amendments has been modest and is spread out.” And, she said, of the 224 new residential units either approved or built in the last two years, only 32 would not have been allowed under the prior zoning.
The growth cap limits building permits for new single- and two-family homes to 65 per year, and to 24 per year for multifamily units in the growth areas. Gersen said 47 permits were issued for single- and two-family homes so far this year, and none have been issued for multifamily units.
“The rate of growth doesn’t appear to be the biggest issue,” Councilor Claudia King said in response to the Long Range Planning Advisory Committee’s report. “So what is it? I think identifying the underlying problem may be the most difficult (task).”
But Councilors Aaron Svedlow and Andrea Ferrante both said the fix may be as simple as going back to wider lot widths, with Ferrante saying the 2016 amendments created “a dramatic change in lot width” in the Residential A districts.
Most councilors Monday also seemed to support a suggestion by the committee to break up the RA district into more discreet areas to better differentiate neighborhoods that are very different from each other.
Councilors said they feel “some urgency” to at least address the lot size question and the issue of breaking up the RA districts into smaller areas, but also said there are other items they would like the committee to look at in the long term.
Among those was whether the current growth cap is still appropriate, whether the current exemptions to the cap for senior and affordable housing and housing along Route 1 are still valid and whether to impose impact fees on certain developments.
The Long Range Planning Advisory Committee next meets at 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 20 and it will likely come back to the Town Council after in the new year with specific recommendations. In the meantime, Gersen said the committee is still accepting public input.
The red dots show where new residential units have been built over the past couple of years in Falmouth.