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FALMOUTH — Time is running out for a town committee working on recommendations to solve growth and density issues.
The Town Council is scheduled to receive an update from the Long Range Planning Advisory Committee at its Feb. 25 meeting, which will be held at 7 p.m. at Town Hall.
Breana Gersen, chairwoman of the committee, said more residents than usual have been showing up at meetings since the town held a public forum on the topic of growth and density last November.
At that forum, residents continued to express discontent with a series of zoning changes made in the summer of 2016 that created specific growth districts in town and deliberately increased the number of residences allowed.
The feeling since then that Falmouth is growing too much and too quickly led to a citizen’s petition seeking to overturn the creation of the growth districts, which was signed by 869 registered voters in April 2018. The petition in turn led to the withdrawal of several high-density housing development proposals, including a contract zone in West Falmouth that initially sought to create up to 151 units.
While the petition was determined to be legally invalid, it did force the Town Council to take concrete steps to address resident concerns that the zoning ordinances designed to implement the 2013 Comprehensive Plan may have gone too far.
In broad strokes, residents have said the Comprehensive Plan update may be trying to make Falmouth into a place that it’s not, including not only allowing but encouraging high-density residential development.
Since late fall Gersen said the Long Range Planning Advisory Committee has been reviewing zoning and “actual development data to try and accurately identify the impact the 2016 zoning changes are having.”
“LPAC has started to brainstorm and articulate possible solutions to address the concerns, but we have not settled on specific suggestions at this time,” she said recently.
The most difficult issue has been “identifying and articulating the problem,” Gersen said.
“LPAC has spent a significant amount of time discussing and reviewing development data. However, even with all of the materials we are reviewing, it is not easy to pinpoint which parts of the zoning changes are the cause of most concern and which parts, if changed, would result in the relief sought.”
During its review, Gersen said LPAC has also been limited because it must consider the zoning changes that were made and any possible amendments in light of the Comprehensive Plan, which is the overriding guide on all land use issues.
“Not only does this require the committee to look at whether the zoning changes are compatible with existing development, but how the zoning changes will structure overall development that could occur in the future,” she said.
That constraint led the Town Council to consider at its meeting Monday whether the Comprehensive Plan itself should be put on hold or substantially overhauled.
While the discussions this week were very preliminary, this could be one item councilors will want LPAC to weigh in on at the Feb. 25 meeting.
Initially, Gersen said the council gave LPAC until April to come back with its recommendations. “The committee understands the concern for fast action,” she said, “but the more time we have to work on possible solutions the better our recommendations will probably be.”
While LPAC has made “significant progress in identifying and articulating the development concerns presented by the zoning changes,” Gersen said the committee has not reached consensus on any possible solutions yet.
That could change, though, as LPAC is scheduled to meet in a special session at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 19, at Town Hall.
Residents wishing to share their thoughts on growth and density can contact Theo Holtwijk, Falmouth’s director of long-range planning and economic development, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 699-5340.
A standing-room-only crowd filled Lunt Auditorium last fall when Falmouth held a public forum on growth and density issues.