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FALMOUTH — As the Town Council continues to wrestle with resolving growth and density issues that have dogged it for the past year, residents are continuing to ask questions about the data being referenced.
In the past several months the website Save Falmouth, which has now expanded to include a newsletter, has disseminated information arguing that too much growth, too fast, is detrimental to the town.
During a public forum March 28, many residents requested a response from both the town and the School Department about whether the numbers being used by website founder Valentine Sheldon were accurate.
Superintendent of Schools Geoff Bruno provided information about school enrollment and the question of overcrowding in a public statement released in late March.
In his statement, Bruno said overall enrollment during the past 10 years or so has remained steady and student-to-teacher ratios at all grade levels are “well within” the guidelines established by the School Board.
On April 16, the town posted its own response to some of the data being shared by Sheldon, who is also a town councilor candidate.
The statement, which is available online, said town staff recognize “residential growth and density are (of) significant concern for Falmouth residents,” and the council is working to reduce the impacts created by a series of zoning changes enacted in July 2016.
The statement said staff have reviewed the information Sheldon is circulating “describing unprecedented town growth since 2016” and have concluded while “growth has intensified during the past three years,” the website mostly relies on data that applies to homes exempt from the town’s growth cap.
For example, 70 new units were built at the OceanView retirement community in the past three years, but senior housing does not fall under the growth cap restrictions.
On average, the town said, 40 single-family homes were built annually in Falmouth between 2016 and 2018, which is actually two fewer per year than during 2007-2015.
And while it’s true that the number of accessory dwelling units has “increased substantially,” to about nine a year between 2016 and 2018, the town said those units tend not to have an impact on the schools.
In all, town staff said only 32 residences – 15 single-family homes and 17 duplexes – have been built since 2016 that would not have been allowed under the previous zoning. The statement also recognizes that most of the new housing is being built in the Residential A zone.
In closing, town staff said “the information provided in this notice is in no way meant to diminish or suggest that resident concerns are not very real. … However, (it’s also) important to understand the type of housing that has been built during this growth period.”
The council is now set to hold a public hearing at 7 p.m. May 13 on two separate zoning amendments that would essentially return the dimensional standards in RA to what they were prior to 2016. Councilors are also thinking about making those zoning changes retroactive.
During its meeting Monday, April 22, the council approved a combined fiscal year 2020 municipal and school budget of $53.9 million. Residents must also approve the school budget, which totals nearly $36.7 million, in a June 11 referendum.
The vote was 6-1, with Councilor Andrea Ferrante opposed.
The budget adds 52 cents per $1,000 of valuation to the tax rate and represents a 4% increase in overall spending.
Several residents spoke about the budget and questioned why it has increased over the past few years, but most councilors defended the combined budget and called it a thoughtful and responsible spending package.
The council also passed a resolution supporting the Conservation Commission’s effort to have Falmouth designated a Tree City USA. As part of that application, a public tree-planting ceremony will be held at 12:30 p.m. Saturday, April 27, at the corner of Route 1 and Route 88.