Petition to overturn Falmouth growth districts ‘legally defective’

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FALMOUTH — A petition signed by hundreds of residents that sought to overturn the creation of growth districts won’t appear on the town ballot in June after it was found “legally defective” by the town’s law firm.

But because so many people have opposed increased density allowed in the new growth districts, the Town Council will hold a public forum on the issue in October and review the ordinance to see if amendments are needed.

Led by John Winslow, a group of residents upset by the creation of growth districts and the impact of increased density allowances – particularly in West Falmouth – turned in a petition to Town Clerk Ellen Planer earlier this month that contained the validated signatures of 869 voters.

Normally that would mean the Town Council is automatically obligated to place the petition on the ballot for a referendum vote.

However, last week town attorneys Amy Tchao and Agnieszka Dixon at Drummond Woodsum told the council the petition was invalid because it wasn’t filed within 60 days of the action it sought to nullify.

In addition, Tchao and Dixon said “any petition that seeks to enact an ordinance must include the proposed ordinance text,” which the document did not. Therefore, the attorneys said, “the council is not legally obligated to place the referendum on the June 12 ballot.”

The petition circulated over the past several months said “We, the citizens of the town of Falmouth, Maine petition the town to rescind the Town Council decision of July 2016, creating high-density residential zoning in established areas of the Town of Falmouth.”

Winslow this week said he’s prepared “to let the issue go,” depending on what actions the council ends up taking, and said the promise made by councilors to review the issues raised by the new growth districts is “all just words, action is what speaks.”

“The town shouldn’t do any growth overlays in areas where there is no public water or sewer, that’s where they went dramatically wrong,” Winslow said of his opposition to the growth districts, which include areas mostly on the east and west ends of town.

He said a resolution unanimously passed by the council Monday that calls for a public forum on the growth districts and promises a review of the ordinance creating the growth areas has “the same cause and effect” as his petition.

“I think they realized there’s an overwhelming sentiment out there,” Winslow said. “We got the signatures and they were validated. That holds a lot of weight in itself. I hope the council really listens. People don’t want these high-density areas. I think we have their attention now.”

Winslow said that opposition also extends to a proposed contract zone off Gray Road that would allow more than 100 new residences to be built, along with some commercial development.

While the contract zone is separate from the growth districts, many of the issues are still the same, Winslow said, including school overcrowding, increased traffic and more demand on municipal services, such as fire and rescue.

In support of the resolution, Councilor Aaron Svedlow acknowledged Monday that “there’s clearly an interest” by residents in having the council rethink the growth districts.

But Councilor Karen Farber said the creation of the districts was a deliberate attempt to lessen the amount of development occurring in the town’s more rural areas and shift that growth to other more developed areas of Falmouth instead.

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