Falmouth Historical To Approach Cape Cod Commission to Preserve Elm Arch

Members of the Historical Commission discuss options moving forward to save the Elm Arch Inn from demolition. A developer has proposed building three condominiums in the buildings absence.
SAM HOUGHTON/ENTERPRISE - Members of the Historical Commission discuss options moving forward to save the Elm Arch Inn from demolition. A developer has proposed building three condominiums in the buildings absence.

The Falmouth Historical Commission will turn to the Cape Cod Commission to preserve the historic Elm Arch Inn, agreeing June 23 to seek approval from the Falmouth Board of Selectmen to apply for a Development of Regional Impact review.

Commission members are frustrated with the lack of support from other committees and boards in Falmouth such as the Falmouth Zoning Board of Appeals and the Falmouth Planning Board and the “narrow” guidelines these boards follow.

Members of the commission met Monday morning, June 23,  for a special meeting to discuss David Wald’s proposal to tear down the Inn on Elm Arch Way that lies just feet outside of the Main Street historic district in order to build six condominium units. Mr. Wald has yet to file for a demolition permit but has met with many town boards including zoning and planning.

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“I believe this is a significant enough historical building to refer to the commission,” said commission member J. Malcolm Donald.

The Cape Cod Commission could halt Mr. Wald’s proposal if it determines that the property is historically significant.

Falmouth Historical Commission members as well as members of the public also discussed Monday how to better protect other historically significant buildings that do not lie in historic districts.

“Do we need a change in the zoning permit procedures, or do we need a moratorium?” asked commission member Nancy A. Hayward. She said she spoke with Sari D. Budrow, the town zoning administrator, who told her that the zoning board could only consider the appearance of proposed structures and not the loss of the old.

“I was somewhat flabbergasted that there was no discussion on the change of the views and vistas,” Ms. Hayward said.

Leslie C.J. McDonald of Queen Street, Falmouth, wondered when the different boards adopted a narrower approach to zoning and when the boards decided not to address historic relevance. She said there was a time when they did discuss historic relevance. “Is it because of other court action in the state?” she asked. “How can it be that planning narrowed their scope? Did they have their own legislation passed?”

Heidi L. Walz, chairman of the Falmouth Historical Commission, said that she did not have an answer to that.

She said that the contract with a preservation consultant—Heritage Strategies, which was hired by the town—was nearly terminated by the planning department because the consultant wanted members of the historical commission to have the ability to advise both the planning board and zoning board.

“[The consultant] had to then narrow the scope of the preservation plan,” Ms. Walz said.

Ms. McDonald pointed out that it is already state law that the planning board and zoning board take into consideration the advisement of the historical commission when granting the application of a developer. Ms. Walz agreed.

Ms. McDonald proposed changing Falmouth legislation to widen both of the boards’ decision-making process. Ms. Walz said she did not know how to do that, but she would look into it.

The Elm Arch Inn was built in 1812 and is on the list of significant buildings maintained by the historical commission.

“There is a tragic flaw with the development process in town,” Mr. Donald said, in regard to Falmouth boards dismissing historical relevance.

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