Falmouth council hopefuls face off in candidates forum
FALMOUTH — The four candidates running for Town Council weighed in Monday on some of the town's hot topics during a Candidates Night sponsored by The Forecaster.
Moderator Andy Sparks interspersed questions seeking individual answers with others that sought single-word, written answers from all candidates simultaneously.
While incumbent Councilors Will Armitage and Joe Wrobleski stressed their council experience, challengers Fred Chase and Mark Soule emphasized their local upbringing and deep community ties. Always courteous, the four often agreed, but significant differences were exposed in many of their answers.
Wrobleski defended the council when asked if the town is "study-heavy" with a pace that slows progress. He said recent reductions in the consulting budget and additions to planning staff have allowed the town to do many studies in-house.
Other candidates said Falmouth commissions too many studies, though Armitage said there is "a fine line" between too many and an acceptable amount.
Chase and Soule both said councilors must be able to make decisions without requiring outside consultants.
Regarding workforce housing, Armitage was the only candidate who supported the failed Woods Road proposal. The town must support its workforce to maintain a sustainable economy, he said.
Wrobleski said he is in favor of what he prefers to call affordable housing, but would like to explore models that mix the units with other housing.
Chase, who previously served on the workforce housing committee, agreed units should not be segregated. He said he supports the concept, but acknowledges the difficulty of working out specifics. He said town employees who want to live in Falmouth should be paid more so they can afford to do so.
Soule said he is "not a huge fan" of workforce housing, adding that the money "would be better spent somewhere else."
When asked how to measure the Metro bus service's success, Soule said ridership must bring in close to the amount the town spends on the service. But Wrobleski said that would never happen, and added he would expect an increase in ridership over the next several years.
While he'd like to see bus use and routes increase, Armitage said it is impossible to put a specific measure on it. And Chase said he would like to see it work but, "If I were on the council, there would need to be people on the buses."
As for the council's role in business development, specifically at the Falmouth Shopping Center, Armitage recommended forming an Economic Development Committee. He said commercial development is critical to Falmouth's diversification and the commercial tax base eases residents' financial burden.
He and Wrobleski both favored a shopping center charette to get public input. Wrobleski stressed the council's duty to ensure aesthetically pleasing development, saying they should always "look back at what's been successful."
Both Chase and Soule said they would seek to establish ordinances that make it easier for businesses to locate in town. "Businesses aren't as apt to come here because of restrictions," Soule said. While he didn't rule out charettes, Chase said he disagreed with the process. "We need to make businesses feel comfortable and welcome," he added.
Regarding the upcoming Natural Resources Ordinance, which includes language governing vernal pools, Chase said he does not approve of conditions that are more restrictive than the state's because they limit property owners' options for land use. He said by his calculations, compensation to a landowner could be in excess of $1 million to preserve one vernal pool.
Soule said he hasn't found information that persuades him to "go as far as (Falmouth) is going" for vernal pool regulations and added he would look to state regulations for guidance.
Wrobleski cited Falmouth's history as a leader in natural resources protection. "I don't think anyone in town wants us to rely on the state and decrease the protection of vernal pools," he said, adding it's a balancing act between enforcing their protection and enhancing developers' flexibility.
Though Armitage voted against the policy last year, he said vernal pools must be protected, but not retroactive to existing developments and homeowners. Conservation and developers' needs "are not mutually exclusive," he said.
And when asked if councilors' votes should be swayed by residents' input during public hearings, such as the intense opposition last year to stricter regulations on vernal pools or the strong support this spring for maintaining the Pleasant Hill Fire Station, councilors gave conflicting replies.
Soule said the council should not vote in response to public opinion, but should vote according to their views.
Wrobleski said it was important for councilors to be open to comments, but should "then decide what's best for the whole town and all the people that may or may not be here testifying."
But Armitage said he voted in favor of maintaining the fire station because of the input he heard from the public.
And Chase said councilors "must at least listen and consider comments when landowners show up at public hearings."
Rebroadcasts of the discussion will air nightly at 7 p.m. from Wednesday,
June 3, through Monday, June 8. On Tuesday, June 2, the forum will be
rebroadcast at 4:30 p.m. The video is also accessible on the town's Web site, town.falmouth.me.us.
The municipal election is Tuesday, June 9, with voting at the
Falmouth High School gymnasium from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Absentee ballots
are available at the town clerk's office at Town Hall.
In addition to the council election, voters will choose two School
Board members; the candidates in the uncontested election are Andrew
Kinley and Rachel Reed.
Residents will also vote on the proposed $24.9 million fiscal 2010
school budget, which is down about $184,000, or 0.73 percent, from this
year's school spending.
Peggy Roberts can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or firstname.lastname@example.org.