Major Housing Project Proposed in Falmouth Heights – Your comments are requested. (emailed 11/25/17, posted 12/14/17)

This article was written by FHMNA member Ed Jalowiec. Much of the factual information is a matter of public record **. The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by FHMNA, which has not yet taken an official position.”

A 28-unit project is proposed for vacant land at the northern edge of Falmouth Heights on the shore of Little Pond. It would be built under the state 40b law which would allow it to bypass local zoning bylaws and wetlands regulations.

A new road would be constructed starting on Worcester Court, running parallel to Alma Road and joining Alma where it meets Lucerne Ave. Seven units would be “affordable”, priced at $218,000. The remaining 21 would be priced at a market rate of $580,000. All would be ownership houses, not rentals.

If you are concerned with the increased density and environmental impact of this project, please attend the first Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) hearing scheduled for Nov. 30 at 5:30 pm at Town Hall. Or, you may send your comments by mail (to ZBA, Town Hall, Town Hall Square, Falmouth 02540) or email any time until the hearings are closed.

The Conservation Commission will also hold hearings but has not received the required notice of intent as of Friday noon, Nov. 17.

The site is currently an approved, grandfathered, subdivision of seven building lots with a total area of 4.98 acres, 4.58 acres of which are considered buildable. The site abuts town conservation land on the north side and Little Pond on the east.

Direct abutters to the south are ten single-family homes on lots ranging in size from 8843 to 14288 square feet. The proposed project lots are as small as 3557 square feet. In other words, from two to four of these lots would fit on each of the existing abutting properties.

The developer (Helmis Circle LLC) is requesting a number of waivers of zoning requirements. Some of the major ones are as follows:

                                                 Required           Requested**

Bylaw regulations:
Lot area                                     40,000 sq. ft         3557 sq. ft.
Lot width                                        100 ft.                 58 ft.
Lot frontage                                    100 ft.                 22.6 ft.
Setbacks – front                               25 ft.                  10 ft.
Setbacks – side and rear                   10 ft.                    2 ft.
Lot coverage – building                      20 %                 40 %
Lot coverage – building & pavement    40%                  60%

Environmental regulations:
Setbacks – vernal pool                      100 ft.                 85 ft.
Setbacks – coastal banks                    50 ft.                   5 ft.

The developer requested a waiver from filing with the Conservation Commission but has been told they must file. The site abuts town conservation land containing an Atlantic White Cedar Swamp, vernal pools and coastal banks. It also is on the shore of Little Pond, a severely distressed body of water that Falmouth has spent millions of dollars on a sewer project in an attempt to restore. The town also spent several million dollars to purchase the adjacent land to protect the endangered wetlands.

The developer is required to prevent any runoff of storm water onto adjacent properties. Failure to do so could result in damage to sensitive areas and homes abutting the site. These wetland areas are used by a wide diversity of wildlife, including documented use by river otters, several species of ducks, several species of salamanders, newts, frogs, snakes, several species of turtles (including box turtle), fox, coyote, and raptors (including osprey and red-tailed hawks).

Falmouth Conservation materials tell us that the Atlantic White Cedar Swamp is mature and in good health with a dense, diverse understory that provides shade, food, and shelter for amphibians, birds, insects and other wildlife. The white cedars are at least 50 to 100 years old. Atlantic White Cedar Swamps are globally and regionally threatened and are irreplaceable as they take centuries to develop into a mature system. They are easily altered by changes in surface water flow, standing water, groundwater height, and nutrient input including phosphorus loading.

Loss of nearby upland area may cause degradation of the vernal pool as the amphibians require upland areas as over wintering sites. Alteration within a 100 foot buffer by conversion to lawn and impervious surface will effectively eliminate the wildlife function by removal of vegetation and alteration of food, shelter, and over-wintering areas.

Proposed parking is two spaces on each three-bedroom home lot. The proposed 22 ft. wide, two-way street leaves no room for on street parking. Any cars in the street would block firetruck passage resulting in a public safety problem. There is no room for guest parking.

Town officials told residents that the Little Pond Sewer Project would not increase density in the area (a flow neutral bylaw was passed) and yet we now have this proposal and the approved 40b on Spring Bars Road adding 154 total bedrooms in 68 units.

**N.B.: The environmental information is from Mr. Jalowiec’s personal observation and study having spent many hours in the conservation area over the last 20 years. The 2006 Conservation Commission decision for the Little Pond Landing project was a source for a lot of information about wetland impacts.  Town officials made the statements about the sewer not increasing density at several meetings prior to the project being passed at Town Meeting and by town-wide ballot. “Flow neutral” is a town by-law, Chapter 180 -Part 3 Article VIII. Requested waivers and zoning by-law figures are directly from the developer’s filing with ZBA.   

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