Falmouth to update plan for open space management

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FALMOUTH — The Long Range Planning Advisory Committee is set to begin work on an updated open space plan to guide the town through the coming decade.

The work will follow completion of a 10-year progress report by the Land Management and Acquisitions Committeeon a plan called “The Greening of Falmouth.” That plan, adopted in 2006, articulated a 100-year vision for managing and preserving open spaces.

The progress report concluded that the town’s open space initiative “has had a substantial impact” on the community over the last 10 years. It states, though, there is still more to be done to fully realize The Greening of Falmouth’s vision, “and given the steady pressure on our remaining undeveloped land,” there is little time left to do that.

The progress report listed a handful of opportunities and challenges related to open space in the town’s future. Those include maintaining public support for new acquisitions; managing properties for multiple uses; finding a new generation of conservation leaders and volunteers; offering more opportunities for outdoor recreation for children and adults; and creating a new open space plan.

“Creating a new open space plan focused on our goals for the next decade would be a logical next step to address the identified challenges and opportunities,” the report read in part.

Bob Shafto, the town’s ombudsman, said the biggest takeaway from the progress report is that the town has made considerable progress, but there is still work to do.

The Greening of Falmouth, Shafto said, was a 100-year vision, but since it was adopted in 2006, the town council, town staff and volunteers have all changed, so there may no longer be a sense of ownership about the plan. That’s one reason why a new plan is important, he said.

“It’s important to reiterate what our vision is and construct a plan that is consistent with that vision,” Shafto said.

A second reason to create a new plan is to “be clear what opportunities ahead we should be pursuing,” Shafto said.

“It’s an opportunity to think about the future and what we want and how we might get it,” he said.

Theo Holtwijk, the town’s director of long range planning and economic development, said LPAC will begin discussing the open space plan Thursday at Town Hall. He said the committee will likely talk about how they want to approach the issue and ask what the town’s focus for the coming decade should be.

“The effort is really intended to take stock of the tremendous accomplishments the town has made over 10 years,” Holtwijk said.

LMAC, the Conservation Commission, the Falmouth Land Trust, and others will also have input on developing a new plan, which, Shafto said, needs to be “a shared vision” the community has for its future. Holtwijk called it a “real opportunity” to bring people together to work on the plan.

“We anticipate that if we get going on this that we will have a plan together fairly quickly,” Holtwijk said, adding a recommendation could go before the Town Council sometime in 2017.

In the past, LPAC has typically met twice a month, a schedule Holtwijk said will probably hold true this time around. LPAC has recently worked on updating the town’s Comprehensive Plan and creating zoning amendments for the town’s designated growth areas, two issues very focused on development. So Holtwijk said this gives the committee the opportunity to work on a complementary component of open space.

“It’s an exciting effort because we have learned that people in Falmouth really treasure the character of their community and the role that open space plays in that,” Holtwijk said. “It’s building on the success story and figuring out how to sustain that success.”

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

Falmouth is working on an updated plan to manage the town’s open space, including the Woods Road Community Forest.

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Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.