TRURO — Two candidates, Caitlin Townsend and Steve Stahl, are on the ballot to fill the seat of retiring planning board member Steve Sollog in the May 10 town election. Both say that the board needs to balance conservation with a pressing need to use the town’s limited developable land for housing. The seven members of the planning board are currently elected to five-year terms, although there is an effort to change the board to an appointed one (see related article.)
Townsend: ‘Indebted’ to Truro
“There’s a way to maintain the beauty and charm of Truro while making it a sustainable community,” says Caitlin Townsend, 23, who was born in Truro.
Townsend says working multiple jobs is the only way she can afford to stay in town. She works on a lobster boat with her father, Chris Townsend. She also does farm work, is a server and bartender at Truro Vineyards, and has written articles as a freelancer for the Provincetown Independent.
But she says she’s staying in Truro for good. “I decided to run for planning board because I’m dedicated to making life here possible for people like me, people who are in our workforce,” she says. “Words can’t describe your feelings about the place you call home. I feel indebted to my community.”
Townsend supports the proposed change to the town charter that would have planning board members appointed by the select board rather than elected. Truro’s is the only planning board on the Outer Cape that is elected rather than appointed.
“I don’t believe the status quo is sustainable,” she says. “There needs to be more diversity in age and background on the planning board. It’s difficult to do that through a town election, though I am trying my best, because small-town down-ballot elections are often an afterthought, and are restricted to people who have the entrenched, established connections with large groups of voters that are simply not available to everyone.”
Townsend is also in favor of developing the 70-acre Walsh property for affordable housing, and she supports the Cloverleaf affordable housing project, which the current planning board has opposed. She wants to see more compromise on development than the current board has engaged in. “I think there’s a way to meet in the middle,” she says.
Townsend attended Truro Central School and Nauset Regional High School and graduated from Mass. Maritime Academy in 2021 with a degree in marine science, safety, and environmental protection.
“I’ve spent all 23 years of my life here,” she says when asked if she thinks her youth is a liability. “I have a very good sense of what we need to create a sustainable community.”
Townsend will hold a meet-and-greet for voters at Truro Vineyards on April 28 from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Voters may contact her at [email protected].
Stahl: A Second Bid
“It’s very important that we figure out how to balance quality of life in Truro with potential degradation of resources and affordable housing,” says Steve Stahl, 67, making his second bid for a seat on the planning board. He ran an unsuccessful write-in campaign three years ago.
Stahl and his wife moved to Truro full-time six years ago from Cabot, Vt. “We didn’t look anywhere else,” he says. He has volunteered at Payomet, Cape Abilities, and the Provincetown Schools. In Vermont, Stahl was a teacher and for five years served as president of the Family Center of Washington County, which provides child care, parent education, and other services to families. “Nearly everything I’ve done in my life has been helping people,” he says.
“The planning board is probably going to have the most important impact on Truro’s future,” he says, adding that he is particularly interested in long-term shaping of the zoning bylaw.
Stahl calls building affordable housing a “top priority.” He is also concerned about drinking water contamination, but he says he supports the 39-unit Cloverleaf project, which will nearly double the number of affordable units in Truro.
Stahl says the debate over the Cloverleaf’s wastewater system “resulted in a better plan” and raised public awareness of cesspools and drinking water problems. He credits the campaign waged by a group calling itself “Docs for Truro Safe Water” with “the Zoning Board of Appeals having the developer put in a better water filtration system.”
The so-called Docs group, which does not include a hydrologist, produced a report whose findings were disputed by a groundwater scientist with the Cape Cod Commission. The Docs advertised their report as being “peer-reviewed,” but later admitted that they themselves were their own “peer reviewers.” The Docs have refused repeated requests to be interviewed by the Independent.
Stahl describes the current planning board as “conscientious and open to public input,” but he noted that “they need to come out of their committee and collaborate more with other boards and committees.” The stormwater proposal recently presented by the planning board, Stahl says, “clearly wasn’t ready. It really needs collaboration.”
He believes the planning board should remain elected. An appointed board, he says, would mean “less opportunity for diverse opinions, ideas, and concerns.”
Stahl calls the Walsh property “a great opportunity for affordable housing,” but he has strongly opposed the Habitat for Humanity project at 181 Route 6, which the organization acquired in 2014. At one November 2020 meeting, Stahl made a formal request that the Truro Housing Authority not allow Habitat to develop the property. “It places the town at risk, and it places the abutter at risk,” Stahl says. “Affordable housing projects need to protect the occupants and the residents around it.
“I am not against affordable housing in any way,” he adds. “I’d be very happy if the house next to mine was affordable housing. But I don’t want to see people hurt by it, and that’s what I see with the Habitat project.”
Stahl will hold a meet-and-greet for voters at his home on Saturday, April 23 from 2 to 4 p.m. Voters may contact him at [email protected].
Editor’s note: A previous version of this article, published in print on April 14, reported that Steve Stahl said it was the lawsuit over the Cloverleaf project that resulted in an improved wastewater treatment plan. In fact, Stahl says, he was referring to the activities of the Docs for Truro Safe Water. “Regarding the lawsuit,” he says, “I don’t know who filed it, I never read it, and I don’t know what was in it.”