Falmouth on the verge of development moratorium

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FALMOUTH — Most people who spoke at Monday’s special Town Council meeting supported a temporary freeze on two-family and multifamily developments in the town’s growth districts.

The argument is that halting these types of projects would ensure zoning ordinances are in line with the council’s vision of not only adding a variety of housing types, but also not severely altering the town’s character.

The council took no formal action Monday, but did set a public hearing on the proposed moratorium, which could also include a retroactivity clause, for Oct. 23 at 7 p.m.

Going back – possibly to before ordinance changes in the growth districts were made in July 2016 – would not be fair, argued developer Jim Cummings, who said his 32-unit project off Blackstrap Road is specifically being targeted.

However, nearly every resident who spoke Monday was in favor of going back to fix what the council has acknowledged was an error with unintended consequences.

As a result of the probable moratorium, two projects on the Planning Board agenda for Tuesday were tabled, including a proposal to build a six-unit, two-family development at 220 Middle Road.

A contract zone proposal that would bring 151 new units of residential housing to West Falmouth, which is slated for a public hearing Oct. 11, would not be impeded by the proposed moratorium, councilors were told Monday.

Town Attorney Amy Tchao said the bias in favor of two-family or multifamily dwellings in the town’s new growth districts occurred when applying old density calculations to the new zones.

In essence, she said, under the new rules a developer can put twice as many two-family or multifamily units on the same parcel as single-family homes.

The other issue, as council Chairman Caleb Hemphill has said previously, is that prior to the zoning changes in 2016, two-family and multifamily units were simply not allowed in Falmouth.

So, the zoning change introduced a new type of housing that neither town officials nor residents were familiar with.

With the moratorium, Tchao said, the town would be able to “put a freeze on things, as you study a more tailored, permanent solution.”

The final vote on enacting the moratorium would likely not come until sometime in November, Town Manger Nathan Poore said.

Addressing the council Monday, Gray Road resident John Winslow called the sweeping ordinance changes of 2016 as “a calamity of errors.”

“I think you need to revisit this and start over. It’s been wrong since Day 1,” Winslow said. “No impacts were considered and all of a sudden you’re changing all the rules for people who bought in before.”

Leslie River Smith also didn’t like the ordinance changes and said she didn’t buy her 200-year-old house on Middle Road only to have “six homes built on 1.5 acres behind me.”

Other residents who spoke Monday said they understand that development will happen, but they want it to be reasonable and controlled.

Donald L’Heureux of Brook Road argued that increased density and allowing multifamily housing affects “our quality of life and what’s scary is that it seems out of control.”

Steve Hundley, one of the abutters who is opposing Cummings’ Tuscan Way project, said that with the moratorium Falmouth “is sending a message that the town cannot be bullied into accepting a development we don’t want that has negative impacts on the town as a whole.”

“The Town Council has to ensure that Falmouth is a nice place to buy a home and raise a family,” Hundley added. “These new developments would destroy that.”

Jan Baker agreed with most of the other speakers and said, “I’m concerned about the direction Falmouth is taking. The quality of life is what brings people here and (increased) density changes that character.”

George Tarbox, who moved to Falmouth in 1971, said he’s seen a lot of change in town over the years, “some good and some bad.”

But he asked the council to not “destroy our beautiful residential neighborhoods” and to consider what the new rules in the growth districts have “done to our lovely small town.”

“Take us back to where we were,” Tarbox said. “We don’t need all these new houses.”

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