Opponents: Proposed West Falmouth contract zone is too large

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FALMOUTH — Resident after resident stood up Monday to oppose a proposed contact zone in West Falmouth that would allow as many as 151 new residential units.

Their common argument was that the project is simply too large and would overburden municipal resources, particularly schools.

They also argued that the benefits developer David Chase is offering, including a new public park and walking trails, aren’t enough to counter the negative impacts.

The March 12 Town Council meeting was the first time recently that public comment has been allowed on the proposal. Town leaders have spent the past few months negotiating the details.

Several people, all nonresidents, spoke in favor of the contract zone, but the majority of those who spoke were against the idea.

Those who spoke in favor, like mortgage broker Morgan Camplin, said the entry-level homes Chase is proposing are much needed in Falmouth, where there aren’t many houses on the market under $400,000.

And Ed Libby, co-owner of the West Falmouth Crossing shopping plaza and a Yarmouth resident, said the new development would be good for local businesses.

“This (project) makes a lot of sense,” Libby said. “Affordability and walkability all come with increased density. I believe the project will be a benefit, ultimately.”

Many of those who spoke against the contract zone cited a new school enrollment study that shows Falmouth’s schools will continue to see increased student population just from births and in-migration, not including new construction.

In the enrollment study, which was the subject of a March 5 joint meeting between the School Board and the Town Council, author Rebecca Wandell said that “due to the contract zone being developed, Falmouth may experience a higher level of growth compared to what has occurred on average over the last three years.”

In looking at a model that assumes 65 new housing units would be built in Falmouth each year over the next 10 years, Wandell said elementary school enrollment could top out at over 1,000 students by 2028, the middle school could see an enrollment of 615 and the high school could rise to 675 students.

At the joint meeting, Dan O’Shea, the director of finance and operations for the School Department, noted the last enrollment study the district commissioned said total enrollment would be about 1,800 students in 2018 – but it is already over 2,000.

With the 65 new housing units per year the enrollment could top out at nearly 2,300 by 2028, according to Wandell’s presentation.

O’Shea said the School Department would likely rely on Wandell’s “best fit” projections when planning for future student enrollment, but even that number shows an increase in the expected number of students.

Last week, school and town leaders said they needed time to digest the school enrollment study and what it could mean, particularly in terms of capacity at the town’s three schools.

But, prior to Monday’s council meeting, Town Manager Nathan Poore said the study is vital in allowing “policy makers and the public to understand facility demands (and) make informed decisions.”

Poore said he didn’t know if the school enrollment study would have any impact on the negotiations for the proposed contract zone, which is a decision the council must make. However, he also encouraged residents to continue to “raise any concerns (and) offer input to their elected officials.”

During Monday’s meeting, several residents also argued that Falmouth has zoning rules for a reason and nothing Chase has said in support of his contract zone proposal makes it worth allowing the project to move forward.

David Murdoch, who has spoken out against the contract zone from the outset, argued that allowing the project “would forever change the character of our beloved town.”

John Winslow, who is leading a petition drive to roll back the town’s new growth district designations, called the proposal “reckless and dangerous,” adding “we don’t have the infrastructure in place to support this growth.”

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