TRURO — In a new report, the town’s engineering consultants recommend developing 28.5 acres in the southwestern part of the nearly 70-acre Walsh property, and the committee studying uses of the land is nearing consensus on a plan to create a significant number of affordable and mixed-income dwellings there.
At the Oct. 26 meeting of the Walsh Property Community Planning Committee, state Sen. Julian Cyr emphasized the ongoing housing crisis in the region, “which every indicator shows no signs of abating. We’re in an untenable situation.” He said accommodating Truro’s needs will mean developing an additional 300 housing units, the majority of which should be located on Walsh land.
Sharon Rooney, the principal planner at consultants Tighe & Bond, gave the committee her firm’s updated analysis of the Walsh property, which the town acquired for $5.1 million in 2019. The report recommends preserving 35.5 acres as open space and identifies a total of 33.5 acres as developable. That includes approximately nine acres adjacent to Route 6 with eight uninhabited cottages. An earlier analysis by Tighe & Bond, presented last January, had designated 19.5 acres as developable, not including the cottages.
The total developable area also includes five acres in the northeastern section of the property, close to the existing municipal North Union Field wellheads.
At the Oct. 26 meeting, committee co-chairs Fred Gaechter and Paul Wisotzky declared that the group had reached consensus on a set of revised planning principles. Among them is “maximiz[ing] the impact of development in addressing community needs for affordable housing and other compatible uses.”
Cyr urged the committee to take advantage of resources like the MassWorks Infrastructure Program, which offers grants for “public infrastructure projects that support and accelerate housing production.” All Massachusetts towns are eligible to apply, and the grant does not limit access to other state or federal funding. Because MassWorks money can be used for planning, constructing, or refurbishing a development project, Cyr described it as “a broad, nimble pot of money” but stressed the importance of moving with haste. “A timely application could save the taxpayers of Truro quite a bit of dollars on this site and is going to be really key to unlocking [its] potential,” he said.
Wellfleet, Truro, and Orleans have each received more than $1 million in MassWorks grants in the past four years for public infrastructure projects, and Provincetown was awarded $395,000 last month. Applications are typically due in June, with awards announced in October. Cyr estimated that on that timeline if Truro were to receive a grant for the Walsh property next year, contracting could begin in December 2023.
Cyr suggested that the Walsh committee also seek funding from the $5 billion the state has received under the American Rescue Plan Act. The state legislature has already allocated $115 million of that money to affordable housing, and Cyr said he expects a second round of appropriations in early 2023. He urged the group to act, adding that now is a good time because Truro “has an unprecedented influence and representation from a legislative perspective.” Cyr grew up in Truro and state Rep. Sarah Peake lives in Provincetown. “I’m worried that this money is not going to be available in perpetuity,” he said.
Two Areas for Development
Tighe & Bond’s latest report identifies two developable areas, labeled Area A and Area B. Area A encompasses 28.5 acres in the southwestern part of the property, bounded on the north by the Truro Central School and including the eight cottages. Area B’s five acres are at the northern end of the property near the wellheads that supply a large fraction of Provincetown’s water.
“Area B is a bit unknown at this time in terms of future water supply planning, so our thinking is that this area would perhaps be in a second phase,” said Rooney. Scott Horsley, Truro’s water resources consultant, will discuss water supply considerations and the improved water quality that he says could result from developing housing at the Walsh land at the committee’s Nov. 9 meeting.
The committee is still gathering information about possible access to the developable areas. Walsh Way currently extends from Rt. 6 into Area A.
“Our preliminary analysis indicated that neither Walsh Way nor Andrew Way presented sight distance issues,” said Rooney. “Sight distance” refers to the length of road that is visible to a driver. Leeward Passage and Short Lots Lane also provide potential access to the property. Based on traffic density, Rooney said, road alterations and turn lanes “will be ongoing considerations.”
Because of Area B’s proximity to the wellheads, the Walsh committee focused its discussion last week on Area A. “Area A would appear to be a bit easier to develop because of the cottages that have been previously developed,” said Rooney.
Raphael Richter, an alternate member of the committee, urged the group to move forward with housing plans. “We’ve kind of been handed a silver platter here,” said Richter. Given the size of the property, he said, there is ample room for both open space and the development of community housing.
Richter also pointed out that Wellfleet is in the process of developing 46 housing units at 95 Lawrence Road on a six-acre property. By that metric, Area A alone could accommodate more than 200 units, he said.
At least two of the committee members expressed reservations about the possible development of Area A. “I just want to go on record that I’m not comfortable,” said Eileen Breslin, citing traffic and “the density of housing that is being proposed.” Christine Markowski also voiced discontent. “Truro is rural, not urban,” she said. “I know we need housing, but solving all of our housing problems on the Walsh property is like putting a big old Band-Aid on the problem.”
The Walsh Committee, with 13 regular members and two alternates, operates primarily by consensus, but will default to voting when necessary. “If consensus cannot be achieved, we would resort to a vote,” Gaechter told the Independent. But he said he does not anticipate a vote being necessary.
The committee will hold two events to get more public input on the plan. One will be held remotely on Dec. 5 and a second will take place at Truro Central School on Dec. 8. “Schoolchildren will be part of the conversation,” said Markowski, who is planning the events.
Gaechter said that the committee intends to bring a proposal to Truro’s annual town meeting in April: “The committee does feel the fire under us and is taking our charge very seriously,” he said during the Oct. 26 meeting.
“I want to urge you to realize the scope of the need,” Cyr told the group. Committee member Todd Schwebel said he was “100 percent on board” with Cyr’s proposed 300 new housing units. “Let’s get going,” said Schwebel.