TRURO — “This is a very painful thing for both of us,” said Fred Gaechter at the Feb. 15 meeting of the Walsh Property Community Planning Committee as he and Paul Wisotzky announced that they would be stepping down as co-chairs after more than two years leading the group.
Wisotzky said he is stepping down “for my well-being and also for my professional life as an artist and educator.” Wisotzky is a potter who will teach a workshop at Castle Hill this summer. “There are things I need and want to take advantage of that are incompatible with the amount of time that it takes to serve as co-chair,” he said.
“I’m about to turn 80 years old, and my body is starting to tell me that,” Gaechter said. He has multiple upcoming surgeries that would interfere with his capacity to chair the group, he said.
That Wisotzky and Gaechter are stepping down together is not altogether surprising, since they became co-chairs on the condition of working together. “We’re a great team,” said Wisotzky, who is also the governor’s appointee on the town’s housing authority, “and I wouldn’t have thought about doing this with anybody else but Fred.”
“I think we have worked the best I’ve worked with anybody,” Gaechter agreed, “and I’ve been on a lot of town committees.” Gaechter is a former select board member and is currently chair of the board of assessors and an alternate member of the climate action committee.
Both have been involved with the Walsh property since the town acquired it in 2019 for $5.1 million, and “we kind of feel it’s our baby,” Gaechter said. They will both remain on the committee as members.
The Walsh Committee is charged with developing a vision for the use of the 70-acre property that can be supported by town meeting voters. Its focus has been on affordable housing, although open space, outdoor recreation, commercial space, and municipal uses are significant priorities as well.
The committee chairs have a specific charge from the town to “primarily use consensus” but to have the group vote “if it is apparent that consensus cannot be achieved.” The chairs must judge when consensus is not possible. So far, the committee has taken only one vote — last month, when it chose an “interim number” of 252 housing units for use in preliminary traffic and water studies.
The vote was seven to three.
Now, one member from each side of that vote has expressed interest in being co-chair. Eileen Breslin and Kenneth Oxtoby planned to meet with Gaechter and Wisotzky to discuss the duties and difficulties of the role.
Oxtoby told the Independent that he sees developing community housing as a priority for the property. “Housing that people can afford to rent is very important to keep all the communities on the Cape alive, Truro included,” he said. Whether he accepts the co-chair position will depend on “whether I can put the time and effort that this is going to need devoted to it into it,” he said.
Reached by a reporter, Breslin declined to comment. She was one of three members, along with Christine Markowski and Steve Wynne, to vote against setting the interim number of housing units at the property last month.
On her 2020 application to serve on the Walsh committee, Breslin wrote that she values “health care, child care, elder care, wellness, and environmental initiatives with an eye to the future.”
The Walsh Committee was created in late 2020 after a year of planning that included a member selection process run by a consultant from the Consensus Building Institute. Since then, the select board has twice voted to reduce the size of the committee rather than appoint new members to vacant seats.
Town Manager Darrin Tangeman told the Independent that several town bodies, like the planning board and zoning board of appeals, have powers that overlap with the Walsh Committee’s assignment.
At a Jan. 10 joint meeting of the select board and finance committee, Tangeman said that “Damion [Clements] and I are looking really hard into an interim solution” to the housing crisis facing seasonal town employees, “until we maybe can get the Walsh Property Planning Committee to address a longer-term solution.
“We tried to propose one to the committee,” Tangeman added, “but that was pushed off until later because they wanted to go through a master planning process.”
Walsh Committee member Morgan Clark said that the committee’s objective is to create “a forward-looking future document for the long-term use of that property.” She said interim solutions to the town’s housing crisis could be on the agenda of town administration.
“I feel like those things could be happening in parallel,” Clark said.
“It’s not an indictment of the committee that we’re not done yet,” Wisotzky said at the Feb. 15 meeting. “There’s a sense of urgency, but I think it’s unfair to saddle the committee with the sole responsibility for what some call our slow pace.”
Later in the Feb. 15 meeting, Clark expressed enthusiasm for mixed-use development, including a commercial kitchen that was requested by the nonprofit Truro Community Kitchen.
Commercial development “doesn’t have to be driving people to this area,” Clark said, “but people need places to do the work that they can bring out into the community and sell elsewhere.” Clark said she would still prioritize housing even in a mixed-use project.
Alternate member Raphael Richter opposed including commercial space at the property. “I just want to emphasize that the community has told us over and over again that housing is what it needs,” Richter said.
Committee member Jane Lea agreed. “Our community is going to die if we don’t get housing,” Lea said. “I do think it’s an emergency, so I tend to agree with Raphael.”
Wynne, who had voted against the interim number of 252 residential units, also opposed commercial development. “I would prefer we push to promote other businesses in Truro that currently exist and need our help,” he said, adding that he’d like to “promote the empty spaces that are there for all-year use.”
Based on survey data regarding commercial development, “We haven’t gotten a clear voice about this,” Wisotzky said. “But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue to ask the question.” He suggested proposing an interim number of square feet for commercial development for further analysis.
Tangeman also spoke about municipal use of the land and said that DPW Director Jarrod Cabral would attend the Walsh Committee’s March 1 meeting to discuss siting a water tower on the property.