FALMOUTH — Town councilors unanimously approved creation of a Water View Overlay District at their May 30 meeting, but without a sunset clause.
Discussion of the district has been going on since February. It takes effect immediately.
Prior to the overlay zone, owners of all single-family homes on non-conforming lots who wanted to expand their homes had to seek conditional approval from the Board of Zoning Appeals.
Creation of the overlay district limits the requirement to those whose homes would obstruct neighbors’ water views within the new district, which runs east of Route 88 to the Martin’s Point Bridge.
With the creation of the Water View Overlay District, the town would also develop an administrative process by which town staff would have the ability to facilitate negotiations with property owners to allow reasonable development in that area.
Creation of the district would also allow similar reasonable development reflective of the history and structures in the area without Board of Zoning Appeals approval.
Councilor Tony Payne presented the sunset clause, which would eliminate the new district after 18 months and allow the Community Development Committee the chance to continue to examine ways to solve backlog problems.
Most residents who spoke at the meeting supported creation of the district, but not the sunset clause.
Councilor Bonny Rodden, who recused herself from the vote because she lives in the proposed district, said the proposal is a good one, but that the addition of the sunset clause would be like passing the buck.
“I think it’s a cheap way of dealing with the issue,” Rodden said. “It’s a way of ducking responsibility. You need to have more time on the issue.”
Councilor Will Armitage responded by saying that the creation of the sunset provision would be a way for the Community Development Committee to say to the council that there is more work to be done.
“It isn’t that the CDC wanted to pass the buck,” he said. “It was that we recognize the fact that the overlay district, or the ordinance the way it was, covering the entire town, was too much and that by creating the overlay district, we could address the specific issue of how to deal with this backlog of work. The sunset provision was an effort to say to this council and the CDC, (going forward) there’s more work that needs to be done.”
Payne said that without the sunset clause, the creation of a Water View Overlay District gets back to basic property rights and is a civil matter, not a government one, and suggested that there be no action taken without the sunset clause.
Councilor Fred Chase disagreed. If the Water View Overlay District is not created, he said, the rest of the town would be held hostage.
“As we stand right now, we’re holding two-thirds of the town hostage and we need to do something about that,” he said. “We need to release the town somehow. It’s long overdue.”
Councilors rejected the sunset provision by a vote of 4-2; Armitage and Payne were in the minority. The vote to create the Water View Overlay District was 5-0, with Armitage abstaining; Rodden recused herself.
Armitage, who is leaving the council, said the council should not approve the district because without the sunset clause, it becomes a private property issue and the council should repeal the ordinance.
“As one of my last acts, I feel strongly that this is a private property rights dispute and we shouldn’t be doing this,” he said. “We should have sunset clause.”
In other business, councilors approved victualers licenses for 51 businesses in town; the use of temporary signs by businesses, and supplemental appropriation of $40,500 from the unassigned fund balance to cover overlay deficiencies.