Falmouth land use discussion gets heated

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FALMOUTH — Tension grew at times when members of the public weighed in last week on proposed land use policies to implement the town’s Comprehensive Plan.

Representatives from the Community Development Committee and the Long Range Planning Advisory Committee presented their first-year recommendations for the town’s designated rural areas and growth areas.

The Feb. 26 gathering at Falmouth Elementary School was the third public outreach event.

“Both committees have made long-term, sincere efforts to come up with proposals with legs,” Town Councilor Claudia King said.

Town Councilor Russell Anderson presented the four recommendations the CDC has come up with for the rural areas. They include finalizing the boundaries between the rural and growth areas; placing an annual residential growth permit cap on new single-family homes in the rural areas; encouraging conservation developments, and recommending clarified zoning language for accessory dwelling units.

“We need to be sure we can tell owners where their property lies,” Anderson said.

If a property bisects the two areas, the committees proposed moving the line so entire parcels are in the growth area. That elicited concerned remarks from members of the audience who said they intentionally bought land in the rural area and didn’t want to be in the growth area.

“Growth is occurring, and we have the opportunity to plan in a way that’s responsible,” King said.

“So you’re planning to ruin Falmouth?” one citizen contested.

King replied that determining where growth will and won’t occur is mandated by the state.

Theo Holtwijk, the town’s director of long-range planning, laid out the recommendations for the growth areas, which he said included four “puzzle pieces”:

Changing rules that discourage improvements or expansions of existing homes and/or prevent appropriate infill development; encouraging more accessory dwelling units; encouraging projects like duplexes, and rezoning all new rural portions in the growth area to the abutting Residential B district.

Following additional public concern that the recommendations might affect property values or quality of life, Community Development Director Amanda Stearns said any zoning changes have to go through a lengthy process.

“The Town Council will choose what aspects of the proposal go forward,” she said.

The two committees will consider the feedback from the forum before presenting anything to the council for consideration.

“The intention is to provide a basis for sound decision making in municipal management,” King said.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

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Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.