Falmouth weighs shortcut for small project proposals

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FALMOUTH — A proposal presented at the Town Council meeting Monday night could make small expansion projects easier for businesses and homeowners.

Councilor Karen Farber introduced a proposed change to the town’s site plan review process that would allow property owners to obtain staff approval instead of going to the Planning Board.

“This is something that has been percolating out there for a while,” Farber said. “What we’re talking about here is small improvements made to commercial or multi-family developments that could go to staff approval rather than the Planning Board under certain conditions.”

The conditions have not yet been ironed out, but Farber said there is staff interest in looking at how this could be done. She proposed that the council send the concept to the Planning Board to get its feedback and then have the Community Development Committee look at it.

Council Vice Chairwoman Bonny Rodden disagreed. She said that instead of sending the plan to the CDC, the council should have the chance to look at it first.

“We need to get it done and going to the Planning Board makes a lot of sense to me,” she said. “(But) after they get it done, I think it should come back to the council, because we may decide at that point that we want (Community Development Director) Amanda (Stearns) to actually write it up or we may not. We may think it needs to be flushed out some more.”

Both Rodden and Councilor Teresa Pierce said they were concerned about the amount of time staff would end up spending on small requests. Rodden said that she is curious to see how much staff time it would take, and expressed concern that as a result, planned Route 1 improvements might be put on the back burner.

Pierce said that while this is a worthwhile option to consider, she thinks it should have been included in a work plan created last summer.

“Review authority would land with the senior planner and the community development director and this will take time away from other things they have to execute,” she said. “I think it is important to do these (types of ) things, but I just worry that we’re lean and mean in a lot of ways and we want to maintain that.”

Councilor Chris Orestis said he is not concerned about the change overshadowing the Route 1 project, and that it should have been a part of the discussion a long time ago.

“Seeing that this is rooted in discussions that go back as far as 2007, but it is consistent with discussions going on now, I look at this being part and parcel of the Route 1 project,” he said. “To me this is not a sidestep, this is part of the discussion … this is right in line with the progress (we are making).”

Stearns said that the timing for the change is good and that it would not be a problem for the Planning Department. She said that if the council agrees to move it forward to the Planning Board, it could be back on a council agenda by their first February meeting.

Orestis supported sending the proposal to the Planning Board, and said that when you have a proposal that will satisfy town staff and business owners, it is a good thing.

Councilors ultimately agreed to send the proposal to the Planning Board to get initial input, and will see a revised proposal later this winter.

Amber Cronin can be reached at [email protected] or 781-3661 ext. 125. Follow her on Twitter @croninamber.