TRURO — A last-minute surge in the number of responses to its survey of public opinion had the Walsh Property Community Planning Committee discussing the possibility of a phased approach to development at its Sept. 6 meeting.
The last day for responding to the online survey was Sept. 5. As of the committee’s Aug. 30 meeting, there were 299 responses. But by the end of the day on Sept. 5 that number had risen to 525.
At the Sept. 6 meeting, the committee’s consultant Sharon Rooney presented a hastily compiled analysis of the results of the survey, which represented the last step in the group’s efforts to gather feedback on its plan for use of the 70-acre Walsh property before sending it to the select board in preparation for an October special town meeting vote.
The committee’s overall plan, which includes dedicating 28.5 of the 70 acres to housing development, was overwhelmingly panned by the survey respondents: 65 percent said they did not support it and only 35 percent said they did.
Nearly two-thirds of the respondents — 64 percent — said they thought too much land was being allocated to housing; 25 percent said the amount of land was about right; and 6 percent said not enough land was slated for housing. Almost half the respondents, 47 percent, said they wanted to see more of the acreage devoted to open space. The committee’s current plan includes more than 40 acres for open space.
The idea of phased development of the property had been considered earlier in the committee’s life, with an initial phase envisioning just 40 to 60 units of housing rather than the 252 units the committee ultimately settled on. Former cochairs Fred Gaechter and Paul Wisotzky had collaborated on a plan for phased development, which included ideas for the location of units in the first phase and a timeline for subsequent ones.
Last week, in light of the survey results, committee members wondered whether phasing would make their plan more palatable.
“Our major goal here was to help ensure that when we get to town meeting our recommendation is approved so that we can get housing,” said Gaechter.
“I don’t think there’s any way to pass this thing without phasing,” said committee member Betty Gallo.
“I am strongly against phasing,” said member Todd Schwebel, a contractor. “I think that phasing is just kind of a compromise that is not necessary.” He said the town was in a housing emergency, and that phased development would make the project timeline, estimated at 10 years, take twice that long.
At an Aug. 16 public forum on the Walsh property plan, many comments focused on the project’s scope and a desire to see less housing and more space devoted to recreation, including pickleball, tennis, and a swimming pool, according to consultant Carole Ridley.
Some committee members suggested that those who appeared at the forum were not a truly representative sample of the town’s residents. A similar sentiment was expressed last week about the online survey results.
“I’m a bit skeptical that it’s a well-rounded sample set, especially of voters,” said alternate committee member Raphael Richter.
Richter may have been referring to an email sent at 7 a.m. on Sept. 5, the day the survey closed, by the Truro Part-Time Resident Taxpayers’ Association (TPRTA). The email encouraged the group’s members to complete the survey.
The email noted that, among its own members, housing was not a priority. “In the 2021 TPRTA Survey,” it read, “preserving Truro’s rural character was among the top three priorities, along with water quality and environmental issues.”
More than half of the 525 Walsh survey respondents reported that they were full-time residents; 39 percent said they lived in town part-time. Among the respondents, 84 percent reported that they were homeowners, and 53 percent said they were at least 66 years old.
Many respondents said they opposed the idea of including five to seven apartment buildings in the Walsh property plan with a total of 198 living units. Close to 80 percent of the respondents said that would be too many apartments.
“Rental apartments are not compatible with the current development in Truro,” one survey respondent wrote. “There is no mention of individual condos, which are very successful here.”
The current plan calls for 21 townhouses, 31 single-family homes, and 10 build-your-own-home lots. Housing opportunities would be allocated by a lottery system, subject to potential restrictions including year-round occupancy and income eligibility. The actual mix of incomes in affordable units would be based on the developer’s proposal, which in turn would depend on the funding strategies selected.
The survey respondents also said they were wary of plans for a proposed wastewater system at the Walsh property. The committee has been advised by the engineering and environmental consulting firm Tighe & Bond that it would be feasible to build a wastewater treatment system “that would cause no increase in nitrogen levels and could even cause a net improvement in the nitrogen levels for the surrounding area” if hooked up to neighboring homes.
A few respondents advocated for more housing than the plan seeks. “It would seem that there is actually too little as this proposal only meets 60 percent of the need?” one person wrote in the survey comments.
The select board will discuss the Walsh concept plan at its meetings on Sept. 19 and 26.