Falmouth to hold forum on density, growth districts

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FALMOUTH — The Town Council will hold a public forum next week on growth districts created through the latest Comprehensive Plan update.

The forum, which will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 15, at Lunt Auditorium, will give people a chance to air concerns about residential growth and density, according to Theo Holtwijk, the town’s director of long-range planning and economic development.

The forum was promised by councilors last past spring after a citizen’s petition seeking to overturn the creation of the growth districts was signed by 869 registered voters.

That would normally be enough to force a referendum, but the town’s law firm found the petition to be “legally defective,” and therefore the question was not eligible for the June municipal ballot.

Opposition to the growth districts, which were first created in the summer of 2016, was also stoked by two unpopular housing development proposals.

One was a contract zone off Gray Road in West Falmouth, which, as initially proposed, called for the creation of more than 150 new residential units.

That proposal was eventually withdrawn by developer David Chase, who later went back to the Planning Board with a request to build 78 new housing units in almost the same spot.

The other controversial development proposal came from James Cummings, who wanted to build 32 units off Blackstrap Road.

That project was defeated after stiff opposition from neighbors, but Cummings has since received approval to build 18 units in the same location.

Much of the opposition had to do with increased demand and strain on the town’s schools and municipal services, as well as increased traffic and the fact that at least in one instance there was no access to public water or sewer.

Next week’s public forum will be facilitated by Craig Freshley of Good Group Decisions.

“Unlike a public hearing where one comment is heard after another, often disconnected and in somewhat random order, this will be more of a discussion on one topic at a time,” Holtwijk said.

“Craig will then ask additional questions and draw out what’s really bugging people about growth and density,” he said. The hope is to “set a tone for constructive idea exchange where, in the end, everyone has played a role.”

Background materials are available on the town website and information provided at the forum will include a projected timeline of next steps, according to Holtwijk.

In addition to members of the Town Council, the Long-Range Planning Advisory Committee will also be in attendance Nov. 15.

The goal is for LPAC to take the lead and report back to the council with its recommendations for any possible revisions to the growth districts or the allowed density, Holtwijk said

The plan is for LPAC to create a draft report by January 2019, which would then be vetted during a second public forum sometime in early spring. A final report would then be ready for council review and possible action by April.

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