Out of the Box Thinking in Falmouth

I remember when they called it "Longshank."  The development know known as Esker Place over on Sam Turner Road in Hatchville was, in its infancy,  a new concept in Falmouth.  Twenty years ago, the terms "affordable housing," or even "40B" were not nearly the common terms in our lexicon that they are today. Back then, though, forward thinking officials and volunteers made a vision into reality.  Affordable housing advocates, like Paul Ruchinskas,  and of course the late Peter Kirwin , who had a sort of local government Midas touch - everything he touched was sprinkled with kindness, pushed forth a vision for twenty affordable homes - real homes that hard working Falmouthites could own and afford - and made it happen. 

I had just been married at the time and had the good fortune to participate in the lottery and was able to see the lottery and selection process first hand and up close, and developed at that time an understanding of the real meaning and value of affordable housing that impacts my public administrator mores today.  I remember vividly the looks on proud potential homeowners - and remember a tear coming to my eye as my favorite schoolteacher and her dedicated and civic minded husband won the lottery for the first house. Let that be a lesson, and proof that the next time you hear someone say that affordable, or workforce housing is for our teachers, cops and firefighters - it is indeed true.

Given that history, it was with both pride and pleasure that I saw a present day affordable housing advocate using that same Kirwinesque creativity and dedication to finding a solution rather than lamenting a problem. Anne Saganic, in her role as the Executive Director of the Falmouth Housing Trust, has presented a proposal to the Zoning Board of Appeals that is, by her own description, "an out-of-the-box proposal," in its attempt to combine additional affordable units with some revenue-generating recreational use.  The plan is to modify the original comprehensive permit for the site and to construct a practice golf range, which would be made available to Esker place residents, but would also be rented to the nearby Golf Club of Cape Cod, creating more affordable housing revenue. 

Well, hooray for Annie. Out-of-the-box? Absolutely. A creative approach to a vexing public policy issue that maximizes the use of the land? To be sure.  Just the kind of thinking that we need in our local leaders? You bet.

ZBA Chief Matt McNamara has proven himself during his tenure to be thoughtful, thorough, and most of all, fair.  I am confident that the concerns of the neighbors will be taken into account, and hopeful that the Chairman, and fellow board members, see that creative thinking like this proposal should be celebrated and supported.

Speaking of support, issues like this, and the opportunities it creates to provide reasonably-priced home ownership opportunities for our friends and neighbors, are very good reasons why Question 2 on the upcoming ballot should not be supported.  The proponents of the question, in an unfortunate but common tactic, are making the case that the affordable housing law, commonly known as "40B," should be repealed.  They are not suggesting updates, improvements or changes to the law, just its elimination.  A simple question: Where would affordable housing be in Falmouth without opportunities presented through this statute?  Take a look at 704 Main Street and the opportunities it has presented for dozens of Falmouth citizens.  Sure, this law needs work.  It provides far too much latitude to developers to skirt important issues of density, setbacks, and other important factors and needs to be adjusted.  To simply throw it out, though, is the sort of dead-end thinking that focuses on problems, not solutions.  It's not what we need in Massachusetts or Falmouth today.  Maybe Anne has an out-of-the-box idea.

This column is reprinted from the Falmouth Enterprise.

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