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FALMOUTH — The Planning Board showed a preference Tuesday for a complete rollback of dimensional standards to pre-2016 requirements in the Residential A zone.
But the board also recommended the Town Council consider a proposal by the Long Range Planning Advisory Committee to increase lot sizes in RA, while keeping some of the changes allowed by the 2016 ordinance amendments.
Board Chairman Thomas McKeon said in recommending both options planners were giving the council more discretion in choosing which path to take, as concerns about growth and density have caused the town to re-think some of its recent zoning decisions.
In other action, the board recommended that the council not move ahead with another amendment to the Tidewater Farm development master plan.
That proposal would double the number of residential units allowed on the lot designated as Tidewater Village 3, among other changes, including higher square footage for an anchor commercial building, which could include a restaurant or grocery store, among other uses.
In rejecting the amendment, board members said they didn’t have enough information about the changes proposed.
In addition, Jason Cole, the board vice chairman, said the proposed changes showed a “very clear and stark difference in the amount of impervious surface and a loss of green space” and it looked to him like developer Nathan Bateman was “trying to do more with less space.”
“That’s not a wise choice, given the growth and density pressures,” the town is already experiencing, Cole said.
Regarding possible fixes to the RA zone, the board took several hours of public comment this week in a preview of a Town Council public hearing on the same topic scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday, May 13, at Falmouth Elementary School.
The majority of speakers at the Planning Board meeting urged members to recommend a rollback of the new RA zoning rules.
But several people also spoke in favor of the ordinance amendments, which are designed to funnel growth into already developed areas of town that provide easy access to public utilities.
McKeon said it’s clear to him that the ordinance changes approved by the council in July 2016 have “caused problems and have to be changed.”
The push for a fix to the growth and density issues caused by the 2016 zoning amendments started more than a year ago and have now led councilors to consider a review and perhaps total overhaul of the 2013 Comprehensive Plan update.
Cole, expressing support for the rollback to pre-2016, said “the zoning regulations clearly need to be addressed or fixed in some shape or fashion.”
“I think we need to hit pause and think about this a little bit harder,” he said, adding that a rollback of the dimensional standards would “not be the end of the story.”
In reviewing the two options before it, the Planning Board also urged the council to “look very hard” at the reasons for instituting a retroactivity measure.
Several members of the board, including McKeon, questioned the need for retroactivity and said it might make things more difficult when reviewing development proposals in the future.
Board member Rich Jordan, the liaison to LPAC, said the reason the committee didn’t want to go all the way back to pre-2016 standards is that it was trying “to have as little impact as possible on people who have benefited from the change.”
He also said LPAC wanted to give some consideration to those who have “made good-faith investments” based on the ordinance changes that were enacted three years ago.
Even so, Jordan said a rollback “may make the most sense.”
During the public hearing, resident John Winslow, who is a new member of LPAC, said he couldn’t see how the town could address all the concerns raised by the ordinance amendments to RA without “going all the way back.”
Two Town Council candidates, Valentine Sheldon and Jay Trickett, also weighed in with different takes on the approach to take.
Sheldon, as he has for months, criticized the process by which the 2016 zoning changes were made, calling it “a misguided march to rezoning.” He also argued that LPAC and the Town Council ignored a 2011 resident survey.
He said the survey showed the “majority don’t want density” like what’s now allowed in the RA districts. “The damage has been done and we need to hit the pause button,” Sheldon said.
Trickett, on the other hand, said while he agrees “with most people that there have been a lot of unintended consequences,” the town is constrained to some extent by the state’s Growth Management Act.
He said the act clearly favors pushing new development into already dense areas. Trickett also said that since Falmouth can’t stop growth it makes more sense to decide “where we want it to happen.”
Other residents who spoke include Lee Hanchett, who said in making the “drastic zoning changes” three years ago, nobody spent enough time thinking about the consequences.
“We need a complete rollback before there’s a complete breakdown of the town’s fabric,” he said.
Resident Dudley Warner called the 2016 RA zoning rules “a crisis in progress” and said with the new density allowed, neighborhoods are experiencing “degraded character that’s impacted our quality of life.”
“We want a return to the relative harmony and peaceful enjoyment of our single-family homes,” resident Bill McKenney added.
But George Thebarge, the town’s former community development director, said despite the “common perception that the rezoning has destroyed (Falmouth’s) character,” it was actually part of a “vitally important growth management plan” that should be supported.
And Butler Carmichael said “plenty of people agree” that the rezoning in RA “provides opportunity” for landowners like her and she argued against a complete rollback as a “knee-jerk reaction.”
But Amanda Rand seemed to sum up the sentiment in the room when she said the rezoning three years ago has caused Falmouth to “lose our way. We’re now super-charging development.”
This story has been updated to reflect the proper spelling of Lee Hanchett’s last name.
The Falmouth Planning Board took several hours of testimony Tuesday on two options designed to address concerns about increased growth and density in the town’s Residential A districts. It ended up recommending both options.