TRURO — “Am I crazy?” Steve Wynne remarked to his colleagues on the Walsh Property Community Planning Committee. “We’ve never discussed this, and now we’re seeing a conceptual site plan with the DPW smacked on the Walsh property.”
It was March 16 and Jarrod Cabral, the Truro Dept. of Public Works director, had just run through a series of conceptual maps charting out possible configurations for a new DPW facility on the 70 acres of undeveloped town-owned land adjacent to the Truro Central School. The Walsh property is one of three locations under consideration for the expanded facility, alongside a spot beside the Public Safety Facility on Route 6 and the DPW’s current site near town hall.
Town staff heard a series of objections from the Walsh committee members, who appeared to be blindsided by the proposal.
Todd Schwebel, a builder and member of the committee, wanted to determine, right then and there, whether siting the DPW facility on the Walsh property should be considered at all. He called for a vote on placing the facility there, saying, “If we do, frankly, I’m going to get off the committee.” Two other members of the group supported Schwebel’s position.
While affordable housing, recreation, and open space have been frequent discussion topics at committee meetings, Town Manager Darrin Tangeman maintained that other municipal uses, including sites for the DPW and for a water tower, were fair game when it came to Walsh.
“It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody on the committee that there would be a proposal for a municipal use,” he told the committee. Identifying these uses, he reminded the members, was their charge, after all.
The committee operates by consensus, and Morgan Clark sank Schwebel’s motion with an objection. “I am not consensus-ing with the rest of my committee,” she said. “This is not because I love the idea of having the DPW on Walsh, but I do recognize that when a town acquires 70 acres, you probably need to think about other things.”
The confusion among the members stemmed from the lack of a “deliberate process” in proposing municipal uses to the committee, Tangeman told the Independent. The absence of such a process is tied to what Stephanie Rein, the select board’s liaison on the Walsh committee, calls the “hands-off” approach the select board has adopted to honor the terms of Article 11 at the 2019 annual town meeting. That article authorized the purchase of the Walsh property for $5.1 million and declared that a “working group of stakeholders” would decide on uses for the land. Town staff and the select board, meanwhile, have taken a back seat in the decision-making process.
This hands-off approach has “created this environment where nobody’s talking to each other,” Rein remarked at the committee meeting.
The Walsh committee is currently composed of 15 Truro residents, including one nonvoting student liaison. The group has been charged with gathering public opinion and then drafting a master plan to be presented at a future town meeting for approval.
Although both Tangeman and committee members expressed frustrations at the March 16 meeting, Tangeman “saw the discussion that we had as being a productive one that will allow for more realistic conversations about future uses for the property,” he told the Independent.
The committee agreed to consider hiring a master planner for the Walsh property. “We would expect that then we would have some leadership to take us down the path to coming to technical conclusions and getting our discussion focused on how to come up with a master plan,” Fred Gaechter, the committee co-chair, told the Independent.
Tangeman anticipates that a master planner would also “help facilitate a comprehensive and coordinated planning process that would allow for a more synchronized proposal for the town,” he wrote in an email.
In the next few weeks, the committee will be receiving the results of a town survey developed to inform Walsh planning, the Local Comprehensive Plan, and efforts by the Truro Housing Authority.