As a lifelong Cape Codder striving to make a life in this community, I believe Truro must take bold steps to stem the housing crisis. That starts with fostering a local government that is reflective of all the people who live in Truro.
At this Saturday’s town meeting, voters have the chance to do just that by changing the composition of the planning board from elected to appointed by the select board. I urge you to vote yes on Article 50.
The crisis has reached a fever pitch. While other towns take action, Truro has moved too slowly on subsidized housing. In fact, the town lost subsidized units between 2015 and 2020. And while the long-delayed Cloverleaf project will produce 39 sorely needed units, it’s not sufficient, given a rapidly escalating real estate market. This year, the median sale price of a single-family home in Truro is over $1 million, according to the Cape Cod & Islands Association of Realtors.
Truro residents in their 20s, 30s, and 40s all have friends and coworkers who can’t find year-round housing. With astronomical prices and little inventory, I’ve all but given up hope of being able to afford to buy in my hometown. We know that none of us could afford to live in Truro today if our families didn’t already have a foothold here.
Without swift and meaningful change on the housing front, municipal services will be hampered by lack of staff. Stores will remain shuttered except in the busiest months. Without action, Truro will become an enclave for the rich and those who inherit a piece of this special place. A year-round community diverse in ages will wither past the point of rescue if we don’t change course immediately.
The current Truro Planning Board is out of step with the majority of town meeting voters — and that must change. The board has undermined and delayed desperately needed housing projects. It attempted to establish a restrictive accessory dwelling unit bylaw and to derail the Cloverleaf project. Indeed, Cloverleaf is a case study of Not-In-My-Back-Yard obstruction, with several members of the planning board promoting disinformation and a nasty public discourse. Were it not for a recent change in state law allowing judges to require plaintiffs to post bond in frivolous lawsuits against affordable housing, the Cloverleaf would still be tied up in court.
In recent years, voters have overwhelmingly adopted sensible zoning laws favoring year-round housing options, such as year-round condo conversion and accessory dwelling units. We accomplished this through citizen action, over the objections of our elected planning board.
The board’s recent actions continue to advance an anti-housing agenda, developed in a silo and designed to thwart future affordable and workforce housing. While the board has now decided to withdraw its articles from Saturday’s warrant, its proposals would have made it even harder for working families to find housing here.
Some worry that an appointed planning board could lead to unchecked development and imperil Truro’s rural character or water quality. I cannot see how that’s possible. Seventy percent of Truro is preserved in perpetuity by the Cape Cod National Seashore. Only encroaching tides can erode the sanctity of our public lands. The few remaining undeveloped parcels are mostly owned by the town and are along the built-up spine of Route 6.
Truro has a wastewater problem, but it is entirely due to the suburban-style development of the 1980s and 1990s with septic systems that pump nitrogen into our estuaries and groundwater. New year-round housing will rely on advanced wastewater systems that capture nitrogen and other contaminants. As a member of the Cape Cod & Islands Water Protection Fund, Truro will be able to upgrade septic systems, install alternative systems, and ultimately sewer Beach Point.
The other three Outer Cape towns have appointed planning boards. Orleans, Chatham, Harwich, Dennis, Yarmouth, and Barnstable do, too, and all these towns have made more tangible progress on housing than Truro. We should follow their lead.
Julian Cyr has represented the Cape & Islands District in the Mass. Senate since 2017.