Falmouth Considers Its Housing Future

FALMOUTH – Members of the Falmouth Board of Selectmen met Monday night with colleagues from the town’s planning board to discuss the future of housing initiatives in Falmouth.

The meeting comes as the town is reconsidering a bylaw on the transfer of development rights which, though it has been in place for 32 years, has only been taken advantage of a handful of times.

The plan is to incentivize development in certain areas of town, such as David Straits, which is already on town sewer and has access to public transportation, as opposed to those area deemed less appropriate.

Under the bylaw a developer can purchase property in a “Donor District” (for example: a flood zone or environmentally sensitive area) and apply for a special permit to transfer a portion or all of those development rights for the right to build in a “Receiving District” (an area more suited to increased development, as determined by the town).

It is the hope of both selectmen and planning board members that the bylaw will encourage increased development in order to house a growing population while also attracting more of the millennial residents, who are fleeing the cape in droves.

The downside of the law as it exists now, is that it limits the areas that can serve as “Donor” or “Receiver” districts to the point where roughly 90 percent of the town falls into neither category and as a result does not apply. It also limits the developments that may result from the bylaw, namely subdivisions. A developer may only take advantage of the bylaw if they intend to build a subdivision.

That’s what officials are trying to change now, but it’s a complicated process based on water overlay districts, coastal protection areas, and other factors that determine areas that are good for development and those that are not-so-good, and what should developers be allowed to develop.

At their meeting last night, officials kept their focus on the sort of growth that they would like to see in the future be that houses, apartments, condominiums, or even “tiny houses.”

Megan English Braga, Vice Chairman of the Board of Selectmen said that the goal has to be providing housing that allows people to stay in town.

“We’re losing a lot of folks, so thinking about across the board who we are trying to serve, and how those apartments are configured, and what the price points need to be to get people to be able to stay,” she said.

While a number of members at the joint meeting seemed to agree that development in the right areas, under the right circumstances, could be a great thing for the town, the conversation lacked specifics in terms of area, design, number of units, and price point.

Planning Board member John Druley told his colleagues that this is yet another reason who the town needs to prioritize the hiring a housing coordinator, an expense already funded by the town at the recommendation of the Community Preservation Committee. 

“I think this is a job for a housing coordinator,” he said, “Because do we need 500 apartments? and if so what level of income? Do we need 300 new homes? Do we need 12-story buildings? What do we need? Everybody wants housing, everyone knows we need housing. What is the formula? Hence we funded the Housing Coordinator, it’s pretty critical.”

The joint-Board moved on from the subject last night with no official decisions made or specific plan for moving forward.

Brian Currie, Falmouth’s Planning and Economic Development Director has promised to put forward a revised version of the bylaw within the next few months.

By DAVID BEATTY, CapeCod.com NewsCenter

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