TRURO — The buzz about the special town meeting was not put off until May 4 — even if the meeting itself was. Debate over its two most controversial subjects, a new dept. of public works facility and the development of affordable housing at the Walsh property, has continued, eddying on Facebook and in real life.
In this town where the post office serves as a kind of town center, a reporter stationed herself there for several hours on Friday, Jan. 19 and Monday, Jan. 29, hoping to tap into this winter’s civic vortex by asking those who came in for their letters and packages what they thought might have happened at the special town meeting if it had taken place in the fall.
Of the 13 people interviewed, most said they had gone to the Nov. 28 meeting. They wanted to weigh in on plans for the Walsh property and the DPW facility.
(Initially scheduled for Oct. 21, the meeting was postponed several times, with a fourth and final continuance on Nov. 28 after more than 700 voters turned out — a number beyond the capacity of the spaces at the Truro Central School.)
Though they offered varied reasons for their guesses, and would have voted differently from one another, most said they thought the Walsh proposal would likely have been approved, while the $35-million proposal for the DPW was destined to be defeated.
Parameters for development on a portion of the 70-acre Walsh property, which has been in the works since the town bought the land in 2019, comprise three of the meeting warrant’s 15 articles.
Those 15 special town meeting articles will, come May 4, be considered back-to-back with the new items on the town’s annual town meeting warrant.
The first of the Walsh articles proposes adoption of 18 recommendations put forward by the Walsh Property Community Planning Committee and consultants. If that resolution passes, the town will use it as a guide for soliciting proposals from developers on construction of affordable housing, asking them to meet the goal of building up to 160 housing units on 28 acres — a number significantly reduced from the committee’s earlier plans.
A second article calls for the establishment of a six-member ad hoc advisory committee to act as liaison between town officials and the community as development plans get underway. A similar petitioned article is also on the warrant.
The DPW is the subject of four articles up for consideration: one that would authorize the use of 340 Route 6 — next to the police and fire station — as the site of the new facility, and two mutually exclusive articles for the appropriation of either $35 million or $3.5 million for the project. The larger sum would fund the entire project from engineering through construction; the smaller amount would cover engineering only. There is also a petitioned article aiming to have the existing Town Hall Road facility refurbished according to a plan put forward by a group of volunteers.
Of the $35-million DPW proposal, “People don’t want to spend that money,” said artist Diane Messinger, who had arrived at the November meeting an hour early and was among the 523 voters who made it inside the school building.
Apryl Shenk, who is coordinator of the town’s community preservation committee, agreed that the ambitious DPW plan wouldn’t pass muster with voters, though for her the reason was evident before a price tag was attached: “People in town don’t feel the relocation is a necessary change,” said Shenk. “The DPW is a big one and I feel that a lot of people want to go with the existing location.” She cited worry about “detriment to the environment of creating a new space.”
Truro’s DPW director, Jarrod Cabral, has said the current facility at 17 Town Hall Road is no longer meeting the DPW’s needs.
“My feeling based on what I heard is the DPW project is a bit too rich,” said Martha Magane, a Truro Public Library trustee who will count votes this spring, as she has for the past six years.
Of the Walsh property, Magane said it seemed to her that affordable housing “is up there in terms of importance” for people. She wondered, though, if that view held beyond her circle of friends.
The post office crowd concurred. “The local population showed up and seemed to be very in favor of affordable housing,” said Tim Dickey, a builder and musician. He was among the 200 people waiting outside in the cold when the meeting got postponed. Dickey, who said he showed up specifically to vote in favor of housing development, went to grade school in Truro in the early 1960s.
“I think there’s a lot of grassroots support for keeping the town viable,” Dickey said. Otherwise, he said, “no one’s going to be able to get anything done.”
Robert Ross, a retired medical writer who said he made it inside the gymnasium just as the postponement vote was taking place, was hoping to raise his card in support of the Walsh property housing plan — and was expecting to be among the majority.
“I think that Truro should be a functioning town,” he said. “To live in the town, you need to have housing for people who work in the town. We need teachers to be able to live here.”
Ross identified himself as “on the side of young people, working people, and we need more of them.”
Ross had also been planning to vote yes on the more expensive DPW article, though with less certainty. “I’m agnostic on the issue of the DPW,” he said, “but we have to support the government, because otherwise what are we?”
Messinger thought the Walsh article “might have passed by a slim majority,” though she herself was planning to vote against it. She said she thought that the development at the Cloverleaf in North Truro, now projected to include 43 units, should be enough new housing for the town. She said she could envision a “much smaller” development on the Walsh property.
Messinger said she doesn’t like it that her being opposed to the Walsh project makes people think she’s against affordable housing. “It’s important to listen to the housing people,” she said. “They have some reasonable thoughts.” She named Betty Gallo, a Walsh committee member who favors the development plan, as someone whose views she holds in high regard.
Four people interviewed by the Independent who would not give their names said they were against the Walsh development article.
Donna Turley, an attorney who works on Land Court cases, said she thought the Walsh article was unlikely to pass, given the amount of opposition she’d heard, though she said she’s in favor of it. Like most others, Turley was confident that the $35 million allocation for a new DPW facility wouldn’t pass, though she was going to vote yes.
Jo Citron, a retired attorney and Wellesley College professor, said inadequate information on both of the big questions in the leadup to the special town meeting was an issue. “I think that the town did a terrible job explaining, publicizing, and rationalizing the reasons for what they wanted,” she said of the siting and plan for the new DPW.
Citron said she was going to vote against the Walsh article because, without enough information, she was left with “too many questions.”
Take Back Truro, which describes itself as a “citizens’ movement” whose goals include “keeping Truro rural” did not fill the information gap, Citron said, because she thought the group was “deliberately vague about its origins and agenda. I think their efforts created a lot of dissension.”
Nor did she feel she could look to the Truro Part-Time Resident Taxpayers Association for clarity.
“As a long-time member of TPRTA before I moved here full-time, I think it was outrageous for them to urge people to vote knowing, as they must have done, that it was unlawful,” Citron said. “I think that, more than anything else, created confusion, dissension, and bad feeling.”
Ross and Shenk also raised concerns about the spread of misinformation. When it comes to opinions about the Walsh plans, “conjecture and hearsay are a big part of the problem,” Shenk said.
Shenk, who declined to say how she would have voted, grew up in Provincetown. “I’ve always said if I were to write a book about growing up in Provincetown, I was going to call it ‘The Grapevine’ because of how word travels,” she said — adding that “word” is not always news. Sometimes, she said, it’s just “assumption.”
For Eben Tsapis, Tuesday, Nov. 28 was a work night, so he couldn’t make it out to brave the line outside the school. He hopes May will be a different story.
“I think the youthful generations need to step up,” he said. “We’re either going to be pushed out or make room for ourselves.”