This Dog Has Four Legs

This week marked the 200th anniversary of the birth of one of our finest Presidents, Abraham Lincoln.  "Honest Abe," as generations have called him, also had a keen insight into the politically dynamic - and offered his observations with wit.

Of truth, Honest Abe once said, "How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? Four; calling a tail a leg doesn't make it a leg."  He might just as well have been talking about the Selectmen's six-year dance related to the development of affordable housing on town-owned land adjacent to the Woods Hole Fire Station. 

The first example of calling the tail of this dog a leg was the very moniker that has come to define this dust-up - For thirty or more years, the land was simply next to the Fire Station, and only became Webster Woods when housing was planned on it.  Although this was a crafty strategy by the opponents in the village, it put a stamp of deceit of the arguments from the naysayers of South Falmouth against housing on a small portion of this sixteen-acre plot.

The vote of the Selectmen this week to oppose an article on the Spring Town Meeting warrant was significant only in that it once more demonstrated the tired, specious arguments designed to thwart the noble efforts of the Affordable Housing Committee. I doubt that it finally closed the door on this conundrum, as the village-to-village venom that has unfortunately developed due to the lack of Abe's most cherished quality has elevated this issue to cranberry bog status.

In very real examples of holding up this dog's tail and waxing philosophically about the virtues of this fine specimen of a leg, village-centric opponents trotted out the perils of cutting a single tree (when the property was originally donated for a school and would have been clear cut), lauded the efforts of an alternative development (that by all accounts would be completed well after Webster Woods), and warned of traffic nightmares from a development of less than twenty units.  

"We have to listen to the people who vote for us," said Selectman Kevin Murphy at Monday's meeting.  Does that include the majority of Town Meeting Members who voted in favor of development last fall? Does that include virtually everyone who stamps "02536" on their return address and has borne the burden of dense affordable development? Does it include the volunteer members of the Affordable Housing Committee, who continue to do what's right in the face of organized and sometimes nasty opposition?

How refreshing it would be if the tail were called a tail and naysayers and elected officials alike simply acknowledged that the opposition to affordable development in Webster Woods is centered in a belief that affordable housing doesn't belong in this location - put it up the road on Oshman Way near downtown, or even on WHOI's property where few will see it - but to have affordable development in plain view just doesn't fit with the village character.  I just said it.  Why can't they?

This issue has become unmanageable simply because one side is offering straight-forward, thoughtful arguments, and the other is stoking the flames of a village-on-village blaze that has been smoldering for generations.  It's time the naysayers offered an olive branch to their eastbound neighbors - their fellow Falmouthites - and decided to call the tail a tail - to acknowledge the public benefit and dire necessity of housing for our police officers, firefighters and teachers, and agree to support development on a mere 1/8 of the parcel renamed Webster Woods.

Selectman Ahmed Mustafa had it right on Monday without even knowing it.  "At this time, we should leave it alone," he opined.  Indeed.  The Selectmen should foster the democratic process by letting the majority voice of  Town Meeting be heard once again, not stymie it by fanning the flames and kicking the dog.  Again.

 This column is reprinted from the Falmouth Enterprise.

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