Defining the Public Interest on Little Pond

 

When my wife and I were first married, we lived in an apartment on Jericho Path in Falmouth Heights - the horseshoe-shaped apartments on the site of the old tennis courts - right across from the small open area near the mouth of Little Pond where people feed the geese, ducks and the occasional swan.  During those couple of years, I developed a love and appreciation for the Little Pond area.  On warm summer nights, we would set up a picnic table and chairs in the courtyard, and enjoy the neighbors and the environs, sharing merriment by the moonlight.  We'd even chip an occasional golf ball into the pond on nights when we felt particularly adventurous. 

It was with a both relief and gratitude, then, that I learned of the effort of the Community Preservation Committee to purchase the 21 acre parcel north of the Pond previously slated for the massive and burdensome development known deceivingly as Little Pond Landing.  In granting the permit under Chapter 40B, the Zoning Board did what they were bound to do under the law - then a dedicated group of local citizens formed the group Save Little Pond and did the rest.  We have them to thank, especially Cheryl Williams, for the ability of the Town to purchase the property and develop it in the best interest of the public.

There, I suppose, is the rub.  What exactly that means - in the best interest of the public - is and will be the subject of lively, frank and intense debate leading up to and following the Spring Town Meeting, where $3 million will be sought to purchase the property from long-time Falmouthite Bob Pacheco.  Lively, frank and intense it should be.

At their recent meeting to discuss the purchase and Town Meeting's pending debate, members of the Community Preservation Committee differed, at times passionately so, about what an appropriate number of housing units would be on the site.  As Town Meeting draws near, I'm sure more voices will join the competing choruses of less or more housing, ball fields, and monuments to Bartholomew Gosnold (if you don't know who that is, a. shame on you and b. look it up.). 

As this debate progresses and its Webster Woods-esque components are analyzed in the coffee shops and supermarket aisles, one thing is certain - purchasing the property is in the best interest of the public.  I am a supporter of development where appropriate, this site is just not appropriate for the 168 units proposed under the now defunct plan.  Here's another certainty: whatever the ultimate development - master plan if you will - is on this site, the discussion on that development needs to occur in a forum much wider than the Community Preservation Committee. 

This is where the vision thing emerges.  The Selectmen themselves need to seize this opportunity to demonstrate that they can successfully facilitate a community-based discussion - much like they have finally done with the behemoth sewer issue - and create a tangible vision for the future of this site.  Peter Clark is right.  Town Meeting likely won't simply approve the purchase without some idea of what is going to happen on the site, but Town Meeting will certainly respond to a united effort by CPC members and Selectmen, committed to an open and inclusive process to ask the community what they want this potential public development to look like.  Some will say leave it open space.  Some will support a modest number of affordable rentals.  Others will lobby for workforce housing for teachers and police officers; others still will advocate for combinations of all of these in varying degrees. 

CPC members clearly come to the table with expertise and experience - Diane Thompson for instance is a regional leader and widely respected expert in affordable housing and is a resource that will be critical to developing the vision thing.  I bet if you ask her, she'll tell you that without wide community involvement, a project of this scope will either fail immediately or languish for years without success. 

I'm sure I'm not the only guy who has lovingly shot golf balls into Little Pond.  There is an interested and impassioned public out there waiting to help shape the future of this very important parcel.  They need to be part of the discussion.

This column is reprinted from the Falmouth Enterprise.

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