Falmouth panel suggests cap on new rural homes

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FALMOUTH — The two town committees charged with implementing land use strategies for the Comprehensive Plan have their first-year recommendations.

The Community Development Committee and the Long Range Planning Committee, in charge of defining the rural and growth areas of the town, respectively, were tasked with making recommendations that would ensure the majority of the new homes built in the next decade would be in the designated growth areas, while also maintaining the rural character of parts of town.

The rural recommendations include finalizing the growth and rural area boundaries; placing an annual residential growth permit cap on new single-family homes in the rural area; encouraging conservation developments, and clarifying zoning language for accessory units without changing the policy.

Town Councilor Claudia King, who chairs the CDC, said the committee was tasked by the Town Council to “disincentivize” growth in the rural area and instead steer it towards the designated growth areas.

“We are not affecting rate of growth, that was not our charge. It was really about moving development from rural areas that we value highly, to this growth area,” King said.

She said one of the things the CDC looked at to steer growth is limiting the development of lots in the rural zone, and placing a cap on how many buildings can be built in that area annually. She said the cap worked out to 26 units per year, which has typically been the development trend over the last decade.

“This is not a radical amendment to the ordinance, but it definitely is insurance. … If there is a tendency to backslide and put all the development out in the rural area, it’s going to be a little harder to do,” King said.

The growth recommendations include changing rules to allow improvements and/or expansions of existing homes and infill developments; enabling more accessory dwelling units; making compatible multi-family housing more feasible, and rezoning current Farm and Forest District areas that are in the growth area.

Sam Rudman, who chairs LPAC, said to promote growth, the panel first looked at making the permitting process “more streamlined,” so it will be easier for property owners to obtain building permits. Then the group proposed zoning amendments that would make it easier to build in the growth area and create an easier process for building accessory dwelling units.

Rudman said LPAC also looked at making sure zoning laws “reflect the actual reality on the ground of what the neighborhoods look like.”

He gave an example of a neighborhood where homes were built before the zoning laws were instituted, so they are technically out of compliance, which means if a home owner wants to build on their property they wouldn’t be able to.

“We wanted to bring more of them into compliance, so that we could relieve the burden on the Board of Zoning Appeals,” Rudman said.

From here, the council will decide whether to approve the recommendations. If approved, the committees will instruct staff to begin writing language for the amendments and resolutions, which would then go back to the council.

The two committees presented similar findings during a public hearing in late February, and took time weighing feedback from that meeting before presenting the final recommendations to the council.

The 2013 Comprehensive Plan, which was adopted last year, lays out a vision for what the town will look like a decade from now. It looks at growing the community and is organized into commercial hubs and economic development; conservation, protection, and connectivity, and diverse residential opportunities.

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

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.