Candidates for Planning Board

Charlotte Harris

Why do you want to run for this office?

Falmouth has managed well to preserve its attractive, traditional, small town character despite rapid growth since the 1980s'. By hindsight, some mistakes were made. wetlands were filled in to make way for commercial development. Businesses were allowed to sprawl along Route 28 and 28A. Road frontage in agricultural zones was allowed to nearly fill in with single family houses. Thanks to climate change, now we need those wetlands back to hold the rising water. Thanks to continuing demand for single family housing, now we need to consider cluster housing to preserve open land and protect our single source aquifer. Thanks to the rise of on-line retail shopping, big-box stores are declining so the time is ripe to plan for changes along Davis Straits and beyond up Route 28 into East Falmouth.

I would like to have a decision making role as Falmouth adapts to these changes. Falmouth values its history and present character and so do I. I would like to be on the Planning Board as it figures out how to both preserve and grow, and to do both fairly so that no area in town is overburdened with change.

What qualifications do you have for this position?

The Planning Board is responsible for administering the zoning by-laws, adding to or modifying the by-laws, and updating the Local Comprehensive Plan, which is the town's Master Plan. These tasks call for detailed knowledge and fair application of the by-laws and then using that experience to develop a vision for the town's future and set challenging yet realistic goals and steps to achieve that vision. The administrative work calls for interacting with a range of people: applicants and their builders and lawyers, town employees involved with planning, zoning, and building, housing and business advocates. The planning work calls for engaging a wide cross section of citizens as well as members of other boards and commissions to call out their creativity to envision the best future for all of us.

My 27 years as home owner in Falmouth taught me taught me to know and love the Town and its ways. My career in public education gave me deep experience in administration and planning. While I started as a teacher in suburban Connecticut where I raised my children, most of my career was as the central office administrator in the Boston Public Schools who was responsible for getting federal, state and private money and managing these funded programs. The way you get such money is by planning programs that meet the requirements of the funder and meet the district's goals and needs. Both teaching and administration demanded a different knowledge base but the same sets of skills that getting results on the Planning Board demands: close attention to detail, team work, creativity, and perseverance.

Last year I was elected to fill a one year term on the Planning Board. My year of service has taught me a very great appreciation for the work that has been already been done over many years to develop the Zoning by-laws and the Local Comprehensive Plan and respect for the people who have done this work. My first few months were mostly listening and learning and I am grateful for the help given me by fellow board members and the Town Planner and his staff. Once I was assigned to the subcommittee for multifamily housing I started pulling my weight and, while listening and learning never ends, I feel I have found my place on the Board and contribute usefully.

What issues would you plan to address if elected? How would you do this?

1. Push forward with the redevelopment of a zoning by-law for multi-family housing in order to increase the availability of affordable housing. In the near future, this work will be done in the context of the Davis Straits Reset Plan as the entire Board works with the Cape Cod Commission, stake-holders in the reset area, and the general public to form a recommendation to Town Meeting for new by-laws to realize the Plan. Because the Davis Straits area has the sewers and other infrastructure to support greater density and we have the plan in hand, it is the best place to focus on now for mixed use and multi-family housing.

2. Push forward on the rewrite of Chapter 240, Falmouth's Zoning By-laws. The present organization of the by-laws is dense and repetitive. It has no index to make it easy to find what you want to learn about; information that you need to plan a building project is scattered across several sections; there are no examples or graphs to help you understand what's allowed or required or the steps to take to gain approval; and the document doesn't use page numbers. The new one will correct these flaws and will modify uses that have fallen out of date. It will be a multi-step process requiring Town Meeting approval.

3. Cooperate with the new Town Planner and others in rationalizing and streamlining the permitting process so all the Town functions involved in planning and building work better for developing our community wisely.

4. Work with the rest of the Board to improve the accessory apartment by-law. Brand new this year, early implementation has uncovered areas that need clarification.

5. Work with the rest of the Board, the Town Planner and the Cape Cod Commission to familiarize people with form-based zoning and begin to develop this type of zoning for places in town that are zoned for business. Form-based zoning gives a municipality much greater control over how new buildings look. (Falmouth has use-based zoning now - there's lots of information about form-based zoning on the internet.)

6. Seek ways to move or bury utility lines so that the telephone poles are gone from Queen's By-way to around the Green and on Main Street from Barbo's corner to the School Administration Building. The part of Main Street where the poles are already down looks so wonderful!

What is your favorite place or activity in Falmouth?

My favorite activities are getting together with my friends, getting involved in community projects, reading and gardening. My favorite places for doing these things are my church, Falmouth Art Center, Friends of Nobska Light, the Planning Board, local restaurants, and my own home and garden in North Falmouth.