TRURO — Anne Greenbaum, chair of the planning board, presented the select board with seven articles for town meeting on March 8, ready to breeze through each one. “I don’t want to go into detail unless it’s absolutely necessary, out of respect for your time,” she said. “Does that sound reasonable?”
The select board thanked her for the consideration before proceeding to ask numerous questions and express concern that the planning board’s proposed zoning bylaw changes were intended to curtail development on the Walsh property. A planning committee is currently studying the best uses — with housing, open space, and recreation all possibilities — for the 70-acre parcel of town-owned land behind Truro Central School.
Two articles that the planning board ended up withdrawing from the town meeting warrant drew particular fire from the select board and town administration: a stormwater bylaw, which contained soil disturbance regulations capable of restricting construction, and a development agreement bylaw, which would have required numerous layers of approval before a developer could build on town land.
Kristen Reed of the select board asked why the proposed bylaws were drafted without input from the parties tasked with implementing them — namely, the health agent, building commissioner, dept. of public works, and conservation commission. When pressed, Greenbaum admitted that the board had been working in its own “silo.”
Planning board member Jack Riemer did seek guidance from the Cape Cod Commission. The tenor of Riemer’s questions, however, rang enough alarm bells that a commission staff member voiced concerns about the proposed changes when Town Manager Darrin Tangeman called to discuss them.
“It was pretty clear to us that the intent was to restrict development and construction on the Walsh property,” Tangeman told the Independent. “I’m very concerned, because we have a housing crisis,” he added, “so why are we trying to turn the Walsh property into a $5 million paperweight?”
Greenbaum and Riemer did not return calls or emails requesting comment.
‘Attack of the Slime’
In Riemer’s view, stormwater has been relegated to “stepchild” status in Truro, eclipsed by the town’s recent focus on septic policy, which he called a “sexy topic.”
“Stormwater has been overlooked simply because you see it washing down the street,” he told the select board. “You don’t pay attention to it because it’s absorbed into the sandy soils, but what goes into the sandy soils are contaminants.” The need for a stormwater bylaw has grown, he said, particularly after last summer when Village Pond faced its “first-reported ‘attack of the slime.’ ”
Truro’s planning board modeled its proposed bylaw on Eastham’s stormwater regulations. But Eastham’s regulations are designed for its MS4 community — that is, its “municipal separate storm sewer system.” The rules there are designed for a more densely developed community, Truro Health Agent Emily Beebe told the Independent. Truro, which has a significantly smaller population, does not require an MS4 system.
This stormwater management plan was “an example of regulatory overreach,” said Bob Weinstein, chair of the select board. He added that he found himself “confronted in the packet with 18 pages of what I say are totally inappropriate for the planning board.”
The stormwater bylaw would have regulated soil disturbance activities taking place on more than 10,000 square feet of land, which is roughly a quarter acre. During the select board meeting, Beebe pointed out that this is more restrictive even than Eastham’s stormwater regulations, which set that land disturbance threshold at one acre.
Tangeman also told the Independent the proposed rules were “more restrictive than what you’d normally see in other examples of disturbance bylaws.”
When Riemer spoke with the Cape Cod Commission, he asked about the possibility of establishing a “district of critical planning concern” around the wellhead protection area on the northeast corner of the Walsh property. This didn’t make the final cut of the stormwater draft, but Riemer stated that he intended to use this measure to protect the well site on that portion of the property.
Tangeman thought otherwise. “It was as if the Walsh property was being targeted to limit development, specifically,” he said. “We need to address stormwater in a way that reflects the needs of Truro and not try to put a stormwater bylaw in place that will limit anything that we can do on the Walsh property.”
A Lot of Hoops
The planning board’s proposed development agreement bylaw was presented to the select board without the required Cape Cod Commission approval. “That process has not been pursued here,” town planner and land use counsel Barbara Carboni told the select board.
The procedural misstep was only one of the town staff’s concerns. The proposed bylaw stipulated that any agreement with a developer would need approval from town meeting voters.
“No developer will want to wait a year to get a development agreement signed and approved by a town,” Tangeman told the Independent. “Most of them get it done with just the approval of the select board and the planning board. Waiting that long will kill deals — which may or may not have been the intent. But the Cape Cod Commission flagged that as a major concern of theirs.”
The commission flagged another area of concern: that a required town meeting vote would pose problems for the commission itself. “To invest a lot of time in working on a development agreement only to have it subject to defeat at town meeting — to me, this is a serious flaw,” Carboni told the select board.
“It seems like it sets up a lot of obstacles,” Reed said at the meeting. “It’s a lot of hoops.”
Back at the Silo
The planning board pulled the stormwater and development agreement articles from the upcoming annual town meeting warrant, while the fate of the other five are undecided. But on March 9, the planning board voted to request that the select board schedule a special town meeting “as soon as possible.” If that’s a go, the board could bring the two controversial articles back.
If the select board refuses to call a special town meeting, Greenbaum said, she is confident that one could be instigated by petition.
Editor’s note: Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article, published in print on March 17, incorrectly reported that a Cape Cod Commission staff member had called Town Manager Darrin Tangeman with concerns about the proposed bylaw changes. It was Tangeman who initiated the exchange.
The earlier version of the article also reported that the planning board had asked the select board to schedule a special town meeting in the fall. In fact, the planning board agreed to ask for a special town meeting “as soon as possible.”