Making Democracy Work

Planning Board

Aileen Mahoney Jensen Observer Submitted June 2018

The Falmouth Planning Board (PB) meets on a regular basis on Tuesday evening in the Selectmen's Meeting Room at Town Hall. The Board occasionally has Special Meetings in other locations such as property sites or the Hermann Room at the Public Library on Main Street. The PB also sometimes has joint meetings with other Falmouth boards, such as the Board of Selectmen or the Zoning Board of Appeals. Meeting agendas are posted to the Board's page on the Town of Falmouth website in timely manner, that is, at least 48 hours in advance of the meeting. Even Special Meetings have posted agendas, even if they are a short sentence or two. Minutes are posted to the Board's page on the same website, after they have been approved at a subsequent meeting. Minutes are typically posted 2-4 weeks after the meeting they represent. Members recuse themselves from meetings, when appropriate, because of conflicts such as prior or existing business relationships with applicants, etc.

During the past few months, there has been transition within the Falmouth Planning Department. Specifically, Brian Currie, the Town Planner for many, many years, retired over the winter. Thomas Bott is the new Town Planner. There was about a month worth of PB meeting when neither of these two were present, or if Bott was present, he was so new to the position that he did not contribute to discussions. During this time, Corey Pacheco, the Assistant Town Planner, attended more regularly. Recently, Bott has demonstrated capability in his position, although the learning curve of Falmouth specifics certainly exists.

The PB is comprised of the elected members below. (The recent Town Election did not affect the PB at all. Leary and Harris were re-elected to the Board, then Fox, Kerfoot, and Dreyer were re-elected by their peers to the positions listed below.) Members typically are present at all meetings; regular meeting attendance is very good, in fact. The Town Planner (TP) is typically always present at meetings. Currie always was, and now that he is up to speed, Bott is, as well. There is also a scribe present for minute- taking. These two sit apart from the Board members. The PB scribe is typically not present at a meeting where the PB is a guest, such as a Board of Selectmen Meeting. In this case, there may not be meeting minutes posted on the Planning Board page. The Assistant Town Planner, during Currie's time, was sometimes present at meetings, although he was typically always listed on the meeting minutes. For the last few months, the Assistant Town Planner has been present at meetings on a regular basis. He does not add much to the discussion, but he is always prepared if a question arises regarding a specific application. The Planning Department also has an administrative assistant, Melinda Maranchie.

Members of the Falmouth Planning Board

Jim Fox, Chairman, Term expires 2020

Patricia H. Kerfoot , Vice Chairman, Term expires 2019

Paul Dreyer , Clerk / Secretary, Term expires 2019

Robert Leary, Term expires May 2021

John Druley , Term expires May 2020

Pamela Harting-Barrat , Term expires May 2020

Charlotte Harris , Term expires 2021

Planning Board Regular meetings nearly always start on time at 6:30pm, and they typically end between 8:00 and 8:30pm. Below is a general sketch of a Regular Meeting Agenda. Further along in this report we will go into some of these topics in greater detail. Special meetings take place at whatever time of day make sense for the activity. For example, a public hearing will likely take place in the evening, but a site visit would likely take place in the daytime.

Typical Agenda for a Regular Meeting

Approve minutes of prior meeting

Approval Not Required Plans

Public Discussion (PD)

Public Hearing (if scheduled; also, multiple notices would have gone out to interested parties)

Planning Board Discussion Examples:
1. Committee Reports and Assignments
2. Bikeways Issues
3. Conversion Bylaw
4. Transfer of Development Rights Bylaw
5. Zoning Bylaw Restructuring
6. Davis Straits Redevelopment Plan
7. General Correspondence
8. Future Agenda Items
9. Next Meeting date

The following are a list of major topics of discussion at Regular Meetings from June +May 2017 (in no particular order.) The Planning Board (PB) also consistently has Hearings and Discussions relative to specific Applications and plans as part of Regular Meetings, but these are not discussed here.

Ground Mounted Solar Arrays The Planning Board is seeking ways to manage the increased number or ground mounted solar arrays in town. Members are not opposed to solar arrays, but they do want to be able to curb construction at this time via a moratorium while they better understand how and where arrays might be built appropriately.

Woods Hole Historical District A recent Cape Cod Commission presentation at a joint meeting between the Planning Board and the Historical Commission (HC) brought to light some potential inadequacies within the Woods Hole (WH) Historic District (HD). Specifically, there are property border issues within the HD that need to be addressed, and there are flood planning issues within that district that should be discussed. WHOI and MBL have already stated concern about changes to the WH HD, and the PB and HC are planning to work together to further research and possibly address these complicated issues.

Conversion Bylaw Changes to this existing bylaw would allow for the conversion of large single-family homes (or possibly other structures) into a multi-family unit for the purpose of increasing multi-family housing. Another goal of the revised bylaw is an easier regulatory process for the developer (as an incentive to create multi- family housing.) Also, the PB wants to make sure the revised bylaw encourages changes in village centers, not out-of-the way places where transportation may not be accessible. Specific issues the PB have discussed include 1) the age of the original structure (so that developers do not build one structure, only to turn around a year later and convert it into something else); 2) if the # of new units would/should be derived from the original structure's # of bedrooms (and hence, septic system); 3) and the type of structure that could be converted (for example, are box stores that have gone out of business a possibility?) The Board is looking at past Conversion applications in Falmouth, and whether they were approved or denied. Also, the Board is looking at similar towns that have been successful in this area.

Transfer of Development Bylaw A property owner can "transfer" development rights from one part of town ("donor district") to another part of town ("receiving district.)" The goal of this is to decrease development and density along the shorelines / flood zones / Water Resource Protection areas, while at the same time increasing development where infrastructure already exists, such as sewage, utilities, main transportation routes, etc.

Davis Straits Redevelopment Plan This is a 50-year plan to redevelop the Davis Straits area, which is Jones Road, the Falmouth Plaza, Main Street, and CVS at Davis Straits. The PB hopes to retain historic uses and some small residential areas, as well as increasing walking and bicycling paths. The PB also hopes to have a variety of multi-use buildings (commercial, residential, etc.) closer to the streets, with parking behind. The large parking lots would be removed, and areas in danger of flooding would be turned into parks or walkways. Overall, there would be the same amount of development, but it would be moved away from the flood zones. Greenscapes would increase amidst the affordable mix of commercial / retail spaces and residential options. The PB is hoping to utilize the Conversion Bylaw and Transfer of Development Bylaws in moving forward with the Davis Straits Plan. The Planning Board held a Special Meeting in late August for Stakeholders of the Davis Straits area, in which all property owners were invited by mail, as well as a notice being posted two weeks prior. Attendance at the meeting was dismal, which was quite disappointing to the members of the Planning Board. Although they did agree at the time that it was early in the planning process.

Committee Assignments / Overlap with other Boards Members of the Planning Board are on other committees in Falmouth, including the Affordable Housing Committee, Coastal Resiliency Action Committee, Community Preservation Community, the Local Planning Committee, the Transportation Committee, and the Wastewater Advisory Committee. Members give the Board updates on a regular basis, so that the group as a whole has an informed picture of other goings-on in town. Members also alert the Board to upcoming meetings, events, presentations, or published reports that might be of importance to the PB. Additionally, as stated, the PB meets with the Board of Selectmen a few times each year. Members see this as an important opportunity for efficiency of planning and successful projects. Members also rightly view coordination with other Boards as a good way to introduce new concepts/projects well before Town Meeting, so that discussion can ensue and there are no "surprises" that become obstacles.

Zoning Bylaw Restructuring In April 2013, Town Meeting approved money for a Town Bylaw Review. Consultants were hired in 2016, and the PB is now working with them. The PB plans to involve other Boards as necessary to discuss definitions for feedback, clarity, and general cross-use. The end goal is Bylaws that are better organized so that they are more accessible and understandable, especially to non-regular users. Specifically, the Restructuring will make the Bylaws more "user-friendly" via 1) visual cues such as font, bold, and/or italics that will help navigation within the document; 2) by the use of color as a visual cue, both in a written and internet document; 3) by aggregating like terms / definitions; 4) by re-writing certain passages for clarity only, with no change to policy or the bylaw itself; 5) through hyperlinks on the website for linked areas; 5) and by identifying archaic bylaws or issues that might potentially be removed. The process of Restructuring will take many months, with the back-and-forth discussions between the consultants, the Planning Board, and likely other Boards and town officials. This topic appears to have been put on hold with the transition of the Town Planner.

Transportation Issues The PB is actively looking for ways to increase public transportation in Falmouth, so as to cut down on the # of cars and the need for parking and also to increase walking and cycling. For example, the Board hopes to better utilize vacant public school parking lots in the summer months to decrease vehicle density along Main Street and at beaches. Also, the PB is thinking about how to tap into the Steamship Authority or the Cape Cod Regional Transit authority to boost local public options.

Bikeways Issues The PB does not support removing railroad tracks as part of the extension of the Bike Path to Bourne, largely because the members view the tracks as an important resource for multiple reasons. The Board crafted and sent a letter to the Falmouth Board of Selectmen and Bikeways Committee in this regard. The Board will likely continue to watch as this situation develops.

The following are the author's general observations from sitting in on 12 months of PB Meetings The Open Meeting Law (OML) is being followed. In fact, the Chairman is openly diligent about this, reminding members and/or the public that things are done in a certain way because of the OML. The Chairman also looks to the Town Planner for clarification, if a situation arises regarding protocol, proper procedure, etc.

The members of the PB typically work well as a group, although they sometimes disagree with each other. Members speak freely and politely to each other at meetings, typically appreciating each other's (differing) points of views on the topic at hand. The Chairperson manages discussions amongst Board members, allowing each to speak in turn, etc.

The PB often looks to the Town Planner (TP) for guidance, whether it be regarding MA laws, Falmouth bylaws, or procedural questions. This can take the form of the TP describing a process, suggesting plans for moving a project or application forward, or reminding the Board of material they may have come across before. The TP is good at summarizing each main agenda discussion, including what he will come back to the Board with at a later date** based on their questions or need for more/ different info. If the TP is unsure about a question or does not have an immediate answer (which is rare, but does happen), he will tell the Board he will investigate and get back to them at a later date, such as the next meeting or other date.

The Planning Board interacts with the public frequently. Hearings and Discussions are scheduled and carried out in response to Applications made by both residents and non-residents. Often, the Applicants do not understand the process, and the PB Chairperson and/or the TP verbally walks them through it, including timelines, what Board has approval authority, etc. More often, town residents in opposition to the Application sometimes want to discuss or comment on issues not relevant to the Application or not under the jurisdiction of the Planning Board. Many just want to vent their opposition to the project, and they have no idea if their comments are relevant to the Application. Additionally, the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) and the Planning Board overlap quite a bit on many Applications, with slight variations of jurisdiction and approval along the process. This distinction is often lost upon neighboring residents, whether they want to complain or whether they have thoughtful information in support of or against the Application. In most cases, the PB Chairperson handles public participation well, explaining the difference between a Hearing and a Discussion, what the scope of the Application entails, the jurisdiction of the Planning Board, etc. Sometimes, patience is lost on one or both sides of the meeting, and during these instances, the TP tends to (quietly) suggest a course of action which will move the process forward in a productive manner.