Falmouth planners back development moratorium, OK Blackstrap Road project

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FALMOUTH — The Planning Board recommended a proposed moratorium on specific development Tuesday, but declined to say if the measure should be retroactive.

Board members also reluctantly granted final approval to a 32-unit condominium project at 80 Blackstrap Road.

The Town Council is scheduled to hold a final vote on the moratorium, which would temporarily halt development of two-family and multifamily projects in the town’s new growth areas, at 7 p.m. on Nov. 13.

Opposition to the Blackstrap Road project, known as Tuscan Way, is part of the reason the council is considering the moratorium. Neighbors continued to object to the development Tuesday.

After a lengthy discussion, which included continued debate on the proposed cluster septic system and the overall density of Tuscan Way, the Planning Board voted 6-0 in favor.

“I don’t love this project (because) it is too dense, but it meets the spirit of the ordinance, so here we are,” board member Rich Jordan said.

It’s unclear what would happen to the Tuscan Way project if the council includes a retroactivity clause in the proposed development moratorium, which would essentially re-set the town’s zoning to what it was prior to July 2016, when the growth districts were approved.

Most people who spoke on the moratorium Tuesday supported making it retroactive, but Planning Board members said they didn’t feel comfortable with taking a position on the issue because of the policy and legal ramifications involved.

“There’s a logic to retroactivity; if there’s a mistake we should go back and make sure it’s all done right,” board Chairman Tom McKeon said. On the other hand, he said, there are “legitimate complaints” about the fairness of going back.

In the end, he said, there are just some policy decisions that only elected town officials should make.

Board member Jason Cole, however, argued strongly in favor of retroactivity and said “it’s essential to the question of, was this the right change. … This issue has clearly struck a chord (in town) and if we’re talking about a pause to do this right, then retroactivity is important to that.”

While the board was uncomfortable making a recommendation on whether to include a retroactivity clause, the majority was clearly in agreement that a development moratorium is warranted.

The vote was 5-1, with Bruce Kaplan opposed.

Cole said the moratorium is not “a permanent cease-and-desist order, but a chance to take a step back and make sure we have the right type of housing in the right area.”

“Let’s take a time out to assess what’s going on,” he added. “Let’s take a break and look at the facts and make sure we’re moving forward with the best decision now and in the future.”

Speaking to the Planning Board in favor of the moratorium, resident Jan Baker said the measure would allow the town to “take a step back and to think carefully.”

“Falmouth is a special place; there’s no community like Falmouth, (that’s why) we need to be careful about how many people we cram into a small area,” she said. “We care about the town and want to keep it like it is.”

Kate Griffin agreed, and said, “What we’re asking is to take a step back and (talk about) what kind of development we want. We need to do this the right way.”

And Maureen Anderson said, “We need to make sure this is the way Falmouth wants to go,” while another speaker argued, “We need to protect the essence of what Falmouth is.”

But attorney Michael Traister, who was at the meeting to represent James Cummings, developer of the Tuscan Way project, said, “There’s no legal basis for a moratorium” and said passing one, particularly with the retroactive clause, would be bad public policy and set a bad precedent.

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