Falmouth Planning Board to take up disputed development issues

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FALMOUTH — The Planning Board is slated to take up two controversial items when it meets next week.

One is the anticipated final approval of the 32-unit, two-family Tuscan Way project off Blackstrap Road, which neighbors have argued is too dense and would create too much traffic.

The other is a public hearing on a proposed moratorium that would temporarily halt any two-family and multifamily housing developments in the town’s new growth districts.

Objections to developer Jim Cummings’ Tuscan Way project have been part of the catalyst for the Town Council to consider the moratorium.

Many residents, including those abutting the proposed project, have asked the council to make the moratorium retroactive in an effort to specifically block Cummings’ development, along with one being proposed for Middle Road.

The council has yet to decide whether to include a retroactivity clause, but a final vote on the moratorium is scheduled for Nov. 13.

It’s unclear what would happen if the Planning Board approves the Tuscan Way project at its Nov. 7 meeting and the council then decides to make the moratorium retroactive.

A required step in the moratorium process is for the Planning Board to hold a public hearing and make a recommendation to the council, which is what it will do next week.

Ethan Croce, Falmouth’s community development director, said this week there is no plan to table the vote on the Tuscan Way project at the Planning Board level and Cummings said he would oppose any attempt to do so.

Both Croce and Cummings said the only outstanding issue on the Tuscan Way development are questions related to the planned clustered septic system, which neighbors have argued is inadequate and could cause environmental harm.

But Cummings said in an interview Tuesday he’s “satisfied every single facet of the requirements” and that every issue related to the septic system has been “checked and re-checked,” including by the town engineer.

Cummings also refuted the argument that his project is too dense and that he’s cramming too many units onto too small a property.

Neighbors have said 32 units on nearly three acres is too much development, but Cummings has consistently argued that the property is actually 18.3 acres in total and that his lot sizes will be larger than adjacent developments built 40 or years ago.

But Tuscan Way abutter Whitney Bradford, who’s been an outspoken opponent of the project, said this week that the proposed cluster septic system and the density of the project are still issues of contention.

She said she hopes the Planning Board won’t give final approval, but admitted she is “not feeling too optimistic.”

Even so, Bradford said, “We’ll certainly keep fighting and we’re also still investigating an appeal.”

Another issue that may be considered regarding the Tuscan Way project is an offer by Cummings to limit the units to residents 55 and over.

Cummings this week said he would prefer not to take that step, but he would do it if it were the only way to obtain approval.

“That’s the market I’m shooting for anyway,” he said, “but it would be a shame if I had to officially designate it as 55-plus.”

Croce said his department hasn’t received any official paperwork from Cummings regarding making his project available exclusively to seniors, but did say such a step “would not affect the Planning Board review process in any meaningful way.”

Bradford said the proposal by Cummings to make his project 55 and over “caught us off guard.” She called it “pretty squishy.”

She said Falmouth’s rules for 55-and-over projects don’t provide enough protections and that while it might “avert some pressure in terms of the traffic and the schools,” it doesn’t address the density and septic issues.

In terms of the development moratorium, Bradford and her neighbors are proponents and would like to see it be retroactive, while Cummings is opposed.

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