TRURO — The 13-member Walsh Property Community Planning Committee has kicked into high gear as it prepares to present its plan for the use of the 70-acre property at an Oct. 21 special town meeting.
The committee has been working on the plan since it first convened in 2021. The town bought the Walsh property in 2019.
In addition to an online survey and information gathering at tables at the farmers market, the transfer station, and elsewhere in town, the committee held a public forum on Aug. 16 that drew an estimated 150 people.
Members of the committee and consultants discussed the opinions gathered at that event and other venues at the group’s meeting on Aug. 30.
“There were certainly comments about the scope and size of the project generally being too large and too much affordable housing in one location,” said consultant Carole Ridley. “People would like to see less housing and more space for public recreation.”
That would mean “pickleball, tennis, and a pool,” she said.
The committee’s draft plan proposes the development of 252 units of housing in a 28.5-acre corner of the 70-acre parcel. The committee wants to see a mix of affordable and market-rate housing and proposes that 60 percent of the units be reserved for households earning between 30 and 120 percent of area median income.
The actual number of units to be built and the economic profile of residents would depend on what a developer proposes. The town won’t build any housing itself but instead will make decisions on proposals that put together complex combinations of funding possibilities.
Still, the committee will ask developers to meet close to 60 percent of the affordable housing need projected for 2023-2026 in the Truro Housing Authority’s Housing Production Plan.
As for the feedback heard at the Aug. 16 public forum — that the 252-unit goal is too high — committee members pushed back, saying they had heard different points of view at other venues.
“That was a lot of people of a very similar demographic,” said committee member Morgan Clark of the forum turnout. “And that has been a problem throughout this process.” Clark said that when she gathered views at Chapel on the Pond, a predominantly Jamaican church in North Truro, she heard community members asking for even more housing.
Committee member Betty Gallo, who listened to community members at the church and the Truro farmers market, said she had gathered similar feedback. “It was sort of interesting to read what happened at the outreach meeting because it was pretty different from what happened in those two places,” she said.
At events like the forum, Clark said, “We aren’t talking to the people who work all the time, who probably worked a double or a triple on a Wednesday in August.”
Committee alternate Raphael Richter agreed, saying the committee should be “very happy that we received a good amount of feedback, but also be a little skeptical that we’re getting a broad cross-section.”
The committee’s draft article for town meeting consideration will go first to the select board this month for comments and a recommendation vote.
The article will take the form of a nonbinding resolution, said Stephanie Rein, the select board’s liaison to the Walsh Committee. The motion is likely to read something like “to see if the town will adopt the recommendations of the Walsh Property Community Planning Committee contained in the report,” Rein said. The report itself will not be included on the warrant.
Committee member Paul Wisotzky, who is now Truro’s moderator and will preside at the town meeting, asked a question that the committee had heard before: “What does ‘adopt’ actually mean?”
“I want to be careful here,” said Town Planner Barbara Carboni. “I’m not town counsel.” But she said that a positive vote at town meeting would mean that “these are now the town’s recommendations for what it wants for this property.”
Town Manager Darrin Tangeman said that, after town meeting, he will develop a request for proposals based on the committee’s report.
Carboni said that the current deadline for the final version of the article to be printed in the warrant is Oct. 2, with a pre-town meeting scheduled for Oct. 5. With the select board planning to meet on the final three Tuesdays in September, Rein encouraged the committee to have the document prepared before the last minute. “Often there are questions or discussion, and sometimes it takes two meetings,” she said. “And this is such an important document.”
With time dwindling, the committee discussed how to efficiently analyze about 300 survey responses and incorporate their suggestions into the final report. “Please, no word clouds,” Wisotzky said. “They are so misleading.”
Rein supported a suggestion by Ridley that a bulleted summary of committee recommendations be included in the warrant in the absence of the full report.
Gallo asked about the possibility of the article being amended on town meeting floor, which Tangeman confirmed could happen. “It would be amending that language, not the actual report itself,” he said.
The select board has received a petitioned article from the chair of Truro’s planning board, Anne Greenbaum, that seeks to establish an ad hoc Walsh Property Design and Development Committee.
Town counsel, however, advised the select board that the citizens’ petition is not in proper legal form. Still, said Rein, “The spirit of the petitioned article is appreciated.” She suggested that the select board might adopt the idea and create its own article for an ad hoc Walsh committee as development gets underway.
Tangeman said that such a committee could participate in implementing the first development phase, evaluating it, and making recommendations for a second phase.
The membership terms of the current Walsh Property Community Planning Committee, which has been meeting for more than two years, all expire on the date of fall town meeting.