TRURO — The Walsh Property Community Planning Committee, which has been meeting regularly for two years, took its first actual vote on Jan. 18. By seven votes to three, with one member absent and the two alternates not voting, the committee endorsed an “interim number” of 252 housing units to be built on a portion of the 70-acre property that the town purchased in 2019, allowing traffic and water studies by the Cape Cod Commission and outside engineers to begin.
The motion from member Morgan Clark specifically called for Truro to meet 60 percent of the need laid out in its Housing Production Plan at the Walsh property: a total of 152 units of affordable housing and 100 units of market-rate housing. Those units would all be built in “Area A,” a flat, developable part of the property comprising about 28.5 acres.
At 8.8 units per acre, this would be just slightly less dense than the Cloverleaf housing development about 1.5 miles to the north, which will begin construction this summer. There will be 39 rental housing units on 3.9 acres at the Cloverleaf — a density of 10 units per acre.
Committee co-chairs Fred Gaechter and Paul Wisotzky voted to endorse the tentative number 252, as did committee members Clark, Russell Braun, Betty Gallo, Kenneth Oxtoby, and Todd Schwebel. Eileen Breslin, Christine Markowski, and Steve Wynne voted no, and Jane Lea was absent.
In addition to the unit count, the mere fact that a vote was taken was controversial. The Walsh committee was formed in 2020 with the advice of a consultant and designed to operate by consensus.
The committee’s charge from the town specifies that “The Chairs will primarily use consensus, but voting might be used as a default if it is apparent that consensus cannot be achieved at appropriate times in the process, as they see fit.”
The vote on Jan. 18 came after more than an hour of discussion that day and another similarly animated discussion of the same motion on Jan. 4, when it was introduced by alternate member Raphael Richter. Following the Jan. 4 meeting, a survey was circulated among the 13 committee members to gauge support for different levels of housing density at the Walsh site.
That survey indicated that 72 percent of committee members supported the idea that 60 percent or more of the Housing Production Plan’s total need should be met at Area A. Sixty-one percent of the members supported the development of 50 to 150 units of market rate housing at the site, and eight of the 13 respondents supported an overall density of six or more housing units per acre.
Tighe & Bond consultants Sharon Rooney and Carole Ridley and committee co-chairs Gaechter and Wisotzky said that the committee needed to agree on a tentative number of housing units in order to move forward with traffic and water analyses.
“In order for the Cape Cod Commission and our own transportation engineers to provide any analysis,” Rooney said, “we do need to know the numbers of housing units that are being proposed.”
Ridley said that “reaching consensus on housing use is not locking anything into stone; it’s giving us a basis for continued analysis.”
“Not having that information, we are going to be going around in circles,” Rooney added, “so it is really critical that the committee come to some agreement.”
Not a Consensus
“I don’t want to waste time going down this rabbit hole,” said committee member Markowski, describing the push to identify an interim number of housing units. “I just feel like we’re suddenly rushing this whole thing.”
Markowski said that 25 cars enter Truro Central School in the mornings, and two police officers direct traffic. “If you had 100 cars or 200 cars it would be a nightmare, and it would change the entire profile of this town, and I don’t want to waste any more time on this,” she said.
Gaechter asked, “How do we keep this planning process rolling without some decisions along the way that are deemed to be interim until we have more information? We can’t do a traffic study without numbers.
“I don’t think that’s a rabbit hole,” Gaechter added. “I think that’s the process that we need to try to advance as best we can.”
“We need to make some consensus decisions in order to get the information,” said Wisotzky. He asked members who were hesitant about an interim number to “go along with it for now,” so that the committee could get better information about “some of these variables that we’re all very concerned about. We will have an opportunity to change our minds.”
Steve Wynne disagreed. “Two-hundred fifty-two units on that property as it exists right now is not reasonable, and that’s why I don’t agree with the consensus,” he said. “It just smells like we’re going high because we all know eventually we’ll be coming down, and I don’t like that approach.”
Betty Gallo said she didn’t see that as the committee’s approach. “I think we really would like that much housing,” she said. “We really need that much housing.”
Alternate member Jeffrey Fischer agreed with Gallo. “I think we could certainly do 250 and maybe even more,” he said.
Richter said the motion to locate 60 percent of Truro’s needed housing on the Walsh property was not a negotiation tactic. “When I put forward a proposal of 60 percent, it was compromising from a position where I personally felt that anywhere from 80 to 100 percent would be entirely appropriate given the available space,” he said.
“I’m just so bewildered by this,” said Markowski. “I feel like everyone is doing this wish list, this pie-in-the-sky idea, and I’m not comfortable with it and I do not approve of it and I’m not going to support it.” Developing 200 housing units, she said, “would change the entire complexion of this town. I cannot participate in this committee anymore if we’re going to be bullying each other like this.”
Gallo recalled an earlier discussion about consensus on the committee. “I don’t want to put any words in your mouth, Paul and Fred,” she said, “but I could have sworn you said, ‘There’s going to be a point when that’s not going to work and we’re going to have to move to majority.’ ”
“Betty is right,” Gaechter said. “We have agreed from the very beginning, if it’s obvious we can’t get to consensus, we default to a vote, and that’s how we move it forward.”
At that point, the Walsh committee voted seven to three to establish the interim number of 252 units, so that other studies of housing on the property could proceed.