TRURO — After digging deep for year-round workers and young families, the Truro Select Board has found 16 people to serve on the Walsh Property Community Planning Committee.
The group will be charged with planning uses for the 69.9 acres of open space and developable land behind Truro Central School that includes six homes that were part of a 1950s-era cottage colony. The property was purchased at town meeting for $5.1 million in 2019. Since then, officials have been gingerly organizing a planning committee with the help of a consultant trained in conflict resolution.
The process has been quietly fraught with tension between affordable housing and land conservation advocates. As select board member Stephanie Rein said last month, the decisions made by the committee could affect the town for generations. All plans for the land must, however, also be approved at a future town meeting.
In an effort to be objective, town officials hired Stacie Smith, managing director of the Consensus Building Institute, to gather and interview prospective committee members. In August, Smith, the select board, and former Town Manager Rae Ann Palmer extended the deadline for applicants in hopes of attracting more young people.
Smith has now gone through 30 applications and conducted interviews, and has made 16 final choices. These 16 will either be approved or possibly questioned further, and the committee’s makeup could be finalized on Tuesday, Oct. 13, at the select board’s 6 p.m. meeting.
Smith’s selections came down to finding a mix of opinions and then choosing individuals who, in her view, could be civil, she said on Sept. 22.
Describing her experience with candidates, she said, “There were a few I did wonder a little bit about their capacities for constructive engagement,” Smith said. “But I tried to make sure we had balanced interests. People did have pretty strong feelings about the need for housing and about the protection of natural resources. I wanted to make sure that those views are represented on the committee, but represented by people who can be constructive and listen to others.”
Extending the deadline for applications, Smith said, did bring in more young residents.
That includes Ryan Schmidt, 35, a lifelong resident of Truro raising children in town. He’s employed by the Provincetown Water Dept. and lives near the Walsh property on Whitmanville Road.
“This hit close to home,” Schmidt told the Independent. “They do not make land anymore. I know the property abuts a wellfield, and I’m very passionate about that.”
Schmidt said he wanted to serve on the committee and he’s grateful for the chance, although, he added, “I don’t have any free time at all.”
The others, according to their applications, have the following demographic profiles and priorities:
- Christine Markowski is raising a young family; her top priority is land conservation.
- Craig Milan owns a local business; he is a partner in the High Dune Craft Cooperative, which plans to grow marijuana.
- Eileen Breslin identified herself as an abutter who is primarily interested in using the land for community health needs like “health care, child care, elder care, wellness, and environmental initiatives with an eye to the future.”
- Fred Gaechter is chair of the Truro Conservation Trust.
- Hannah King, a teacher at Truro Central School, is raising a young family and holds affordable housing as her top priority.
- Jane Lea is a court mediator who prioritizes “environment, habitat, and ecosystems” and has served on the Highland Affordable Housing board.
- Janice Parky is a member of the open space committee; affordable housing is a top priority for her.
- Kenneth Oxtoby is a member of school committee and a nurse whose top interest is housing opportunities.
- Kevin Grunwald is chair of the Truro Housing Authority.
- Morgan Clark is raising a young family, works as the Provincetown health director, and is primarily interested in housing.
- Paul Wisotzky, a former six-year select board member who helped negotiate the land purchase with the Walsh family, said he is offering his “best thinking” to reach consensus.
- Russell Braun, a former Truro and Provincetown building inspector, listed conservation and open space as his top interest.
- Steve Wynne, an abutter to the land, is a member of the Truro Part-time Resident Taxpayers Association, whose top interest is conservation.
- Susan Howe, a member of the commission on disabilities and president of the Truro Historical Society, listed housing as her top priority.
- Todd Schwebel, a carpenter, also prioritized housing. He studied and worked as a mediator in the Barnstable courts.