Falmouth residents continue to slam contract zone

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FALMOUTH — The message residents had for the Town Council Monday is that there’s virtually no support for a proposed contract zone that could bring more than 100 new housing units to West Falmouth.

At the formal public hearing on the proposal by developer David Chase, more than a dozen people spoke against the project, which also includes some limited commercial development.

The details are still in flux more than a year into the discussion, with Chase saying Monday he’s now willing to make concessions to get the development approved, including limiting the total number of units to 139.

Originally Chase had proposed as many as 151 units, including several large apartment buildings. But questions about the size of the project arose during several hearings in front of the Planning Board and Town Council.

Following council debate at its March 26 meeting, Chase said this week he’s willing to reduce the size of the project, as well as give up on the exemptions to the growth cap he’d been seeking for units that would be reserved for residents 55 and older.

“I thought if we could encourage 55-plus, it would be beneficial to the project,” he said, “But I could give up (on those exemptions) altogether if that’s what the council wants.”

In addition, Chase said while including affordable homes in the $280,000 price range “is very important personally, I could go as low as” 20 growth-cap exemptions for that type of housing.

“I’m now asking for as few as 20 exemptions if that will move the project forward,” Chase said, adding he would also agree to be limited to only building 35 units a year “if that helps with this decision.”

Chase, who’s partnering on the development with Town Councilor Andrea Ferrante and her husband, Matthew, also said it’s likely that Falmouth would see 550 units of new housing built in town over the next 10 years and argued that “those houses have to go somewhere and (I’m) in a designated growth area.”

Overall he called the contract zone proposal “a great project that will (become) a great neighborhood.”

But nearly every other speaker said the project is still too big and doesn’t fit in with the rural character of West Falmouth.

Many also argued that the contract includes nothing beneficial to the town and said they’re worried about the impact a large development would have on school and municipal services.

“I’m strongly opposed to this cluster-bomb type of housing and this project should not proceed,” David Murdoch said. “Both the Planning Board and Town Council have heard overwhelming opposition.

“Hundreds have objected and begged for this project to be rejected to protect our quality of life,” he continued. “The constant view is that it’s just too big and it doesn’t fit the character of Falmouth.”

Murdoch ended his comments by calling the contract zone proposal “nothing more than a gussied up, sardine-can environment.”

“I can’t believe this is even moving forward,” Steve Dyer added. “Most people think this is too big, too fast. The people don’t want this to move forward and I don’t know how you’re getting the feeling that this would be good for the town of Falmouth.”

The project is being proposed for a 52-acre parcel that’s bound by Mountain Road, Route 100 and the Maine Turnpike. It is in the Village Mixed-Use zone.

In order to approve the contract zone the council must find that it fits with the underlying zoning and the Comprehensive Plan, and provides a public benefit that would otherwise not be available.

Chase has said the public benefits of his project include a new public park, sidewalks, connectivity within the development, and a variety of housing at different price points.

But Dyer and another resident, John Winslow, argued that the existing zone puts an emphasis on commercial development with a “residential influence,” and not a project that’s 98 percent new housing.

“This is the only commercial area in West Falmouth and nowhere is residential growth mentioned,” Dyer said. “There are 428 acres in the (zone) with 122 houses. That you’re now doubling that rate of growth is incomprehensible. It blows my mind.”

Kristina Walker said she is opposed becaue “the only benefits are to the developers and those who want to move to Falmouth. What eludes me is what the benefits are for the (people) already here.”

She added that the schools are already at capacity and there would be impacts to roads and municipal services, too.

“I really implore you not to approve this project. Everybody is against it, even though it doesn’t seem like you’re hearing that,” Walker told the council.

There may be more negotiation of the contract zone provisions in the coming weeks, but after Monday’s public hearing and one last week at the Planning Board, the town has now fulfilled all the statutory requirements under its contract zone ordinance.

The project, therefore, can now move forward through the regular first reading and second reading process whenever councilors decide the contract provisions sufficiently reflect what’s been agreed upon between the town and the developer.

Being so far along in the process is exactly what has Susan Christy most worried.

“West Falmouth is already a village and I’m concerned about the impact of this project on established neighborhoods,” Christy told the council. “Despite the volume of public critique, you’re pretty far down the road, (but still) I hope you deny the contract zone.”

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

Signs like this one popped up in West Falmouth last fall in response to a controversial contract zone project still under review by the Town Council.