TRURO — The proposed number of housing units at the 70-acre Walsh property dropped from 252 units to 160 after a 9-to-2 vote of the Walsh Property Community Planning Committee on Sept. 13. An article for the October town meeting warrant that reflects that vote then passed unanimously at the select board’s Sept. 19 meeting.
The Walsh Committee voted just a week after it reviewed the results of a community survey in which 64 percent of respondents were opposed to the group’s previous housing plan.
The housing and mixed-use development are slated for “Area A,” a 28.5-acre region at the southwest corner of the property. The rest of the property, about 41 acres, would be preserved as open space.
Walsh Committee cochair Ken Oxtoby and members Russ Braun, Morgan Clark, Jeff Fischer, Fred Gaechter, Betty Gallo, Jane Lea, Todd Schwebel, and Paul Wisotzky all voted for the reducing the number of units, given the survey responses.
Cochair Eileen Breslin and member Steve Wynne voted against the change — because they wanted even less housing to be built on the property.
The committee members who voted for the reduction were not all pleased to be doing so.
“We asked the people who we knew would be upset about the number whether they’re upset about the number,” said Clark, “and we actually haven’t really asked a lot of the people who would speak differently.” She had initially proposed that 252 units be in the plan.
“I can’t believe I’m going to say this,” said former cochair Gaechter, “but I think we’re dealing with as much of a political issue here as we are a technical issue. And we have to take the political realities if we want to get this passed.”
“If the opinion is that 160 is the salable number politically, then, yeah, let’s go with it,” Braun said. “We have to move forward.”
Gallo, who previously advocated for more housing and is a member of the Truro Housing Authority, said, “I think that we have to listen to what we heard” in the community survey.
“What we have heard from community outreach is that it has absolutely immobilized people from thinking about other opportunities for the property,” said Breslin.
Both Breslin and Wynne, the two no votes on Sept. 13, had also voted against the 252-unit proposal in January. Both are also listed as directors of the Truro Part-Time Resident Taxpayers Association, whose website states that its top three priorities are preserving Truro’s “rural character,” water quality, and environmental issues.
The Walsh Committee, which has been meeting for more than two and a half years, had developed the 252-unit proposal from numbers in the Truro Housing Production Plan. That proposal included 152 income-restricted units — 60 percent of the need documented in the Housing Production Plan — along with 100 market-rate units.
The new downsized proposal did not specify how many of the 160 units should be affordable or income-restricted. In its memo to the select board, which included 18 specific recommendations, the committee advised “providing year-round deed restricted rental and homeownership housing that is attainable to a broad cross-section of the Truro community.”
When the select board voted on Sept. 19, member Bob Weinstein said he was “very disturbed by the density” proposed, because it would be less than half as dense as the Cloverleaf affordable housing development. Weinstein wondered whether the rest of the property might be developable in the future
During the Walsh Committee’s Sept. 13 meeting, the group also voted 6-5 to include a specific phasing guideline in its recommendations to the select board. The committee recommended “developing residential units in phases, and that Phase 1 be 50-80 units.”
Cochairs Breslin and Oxtoby, along with members Gaechter, Gallo, Wisotzky, and Wynne, voted for the phasing recommendation. Braun, Clark, Fischer, Lea, and Schwebel were opposed.
The committee agreed that phasing would slow the development process — but did not agree whether that was good or bad.
“Sometimes you’ve got to go slow in order to go fast,” said Breslin.
“We’ve gone slow for decades and still do not go fast,” said alternate member Raphael Richter.
Richter, who as an alternate did not vote, described the 50-to-80-unit phasing proposal as “such a pitiful number at such incredibly low density for what the property can sustain.”
Gaechter voted in favor of phasing because he worried that without a specific instruction a developer might begin with even smaller phases.
“I’m concerned because developers said their optimum is 40 to 60” units, Gaechter said. He supported the 50-to-80-unit first phase “not because I want to restrict it, but I want to make damn sure we get some immediate relief for the housing we need.”
“I don’t think we need to be super prescriptive here,” said Clark, “not because I don’t want phasing but because I don’t want to limit the creativity of a potential developer.”
The other 16 recommendations to the select board were reached by consensus. As for the two difficult votes, “There are minority reports being compiled to explain why people voted the way they did,” Oxtoby told the select board on Sept. 19.
Select board chair Kristen Reed said that town meeting would be the ultimate arbiter of the plan for housing on the property.
“I think we should all be prepared for amendments to this article in either direction,” Reed said. Some voters could come to town meeting hoping for more units, she said, while others “have a house and don’t think anybody else needs one.”