TRURO — Town officials have hired a Cambridge consulting firm to help figure out what to do with the 70-acre Walsh property, whose purchase for $5.1 million was approved by town meeting in May.
The Consensus Building Institute (CBI) of Cambridge will set up a process to guide the Walsh property plan. Stacie Nicole Smith, managing director of CBI, wrote a nine-page draft on how to proceed. She “specializes in facilitating highly complex and contentious multi-party disputes around substantively challenging technical issues, where identities, values, and interests intertwine,” according to the CBI website.
Smith was in Truro on Nov. 12 to go over the draft of the plan with the select board. At the board’s meeting that day many questions were asked about who will be picked for the Walsh Property Community Planning Committee and exactly who will do the picking.
The committee will have 8 to 12 members. Those who wish to be appointed will apply to a “neutral facilitation team,” Smith’s draft plan states. This team will not be anyone from town, but from another consulting firm that has not yet been hired, according to Town Manager Rae Ann Palmer.
Smith’s CBI was contracted to help officials begin the process. But the neutral facilitation team will be part of a new contract, which must go through a competitive procurement process, Palmer said.
The Walsh property, located behind Truro Central School, includes at least 40 acres of buildable land. According to an appraiser hired by the Truro Conservation Trust, the land’s “best and highest use,” a phrase used to determine the property’s market value, would be the development of 30 to 40 single-family homes.
At least part of the Walsh land will likely be preserved as open space, since the Truro Conservation Trust kicked in $500,000 towards the purchase, said Palmer.
It’s clear that housing and the environment will be competing interests in the coming debate over the property, and that seats on the planning committee will be highly prized, even though many vacancies exist on Truro’s other town boards and committees.
“We have so much interest in this committee, it’s been heartening,” said select board member Sue Areson.
The neutral facilitation team will review the applications, which have not yet been drawn up, and make recommendations to the select board, which will then appoint the planning committee members. (At this point, even the committee name is not final. Smith recommended calling it the Walsh Community Planning Committee, without the word “property.” But select board member Robert Weinstein said that sounded a bit too much like the “Jim Jones community.”)
The next step is reviewing the application for committee membership, which Smith is drafting. There is no timeline for this review, Palmer said. No further meetings are planned. Palmer guessed that the select board will have something on its agenda in the new year.
Asked if this process was proceeding too slowly, Palmer said no. “People wanted to be deliberate in the process,” she said.
The select board is charged with picking a “balanced and broad range of perspectives, preferences, and demographics,” Smith wrote. These include part-time residents, tradespeople, youth, families, seniors, business owners, “housing/affordable advocates,” and “land conservation and open space advocates.”
Cheryl Best, a citizen, strongly favored the latter. She told the select board on Nov. 12 that environmental concerns should not be relegated to a mere “interest group.”
“We’re looking at a tract of land that is 70 acres, and somewhere it should state no harm should be done to that ecosystem,” Best said, adding that the very definition of success with the Walsh property should be the preservation of its ecosystem.
“Do you think the residents of Truro agree that is a measure of success?” Smith asked.
“I don’t know, but I speak for the trees,” Best replied. “I speak only for myself.”
The draft community process for the Walsh property plan is posted on the town website at bit.ly/35Atevv.