New Community Preservation Needs Assessment Approach Yields Valuable Results

The Community Preservation Committee used a different approach to its annual needs assessment this year and committee members like the results. Many of the people who went to Falmouth Library Thursday evening, March 20, were prepared to make formal presentations on specific needs and project proposals. Instead, participants were asked to broaden their perspective to discuss needs in all four funding areas under the Massachusetts Community Preservation Act: community (affordable) housing, historic preservation, open space and recreation.

After time for conversation, food and drink, participants rotated in small groups through stations representing the four CPA funding areas to give their opinions and ideas. They spoke from a wide range of commitments and experience and energetically competed and collaborated to get their ideas recorded. In addition to interested Falmouth residents, participants included representatives of the board of selectmen, town management, the conservation commission, Falmouth Water Stewards (formerly known as FACES), the public schools, the recreation department, the Woods Hole Historical Museum and the Woods Hole Public Library, Falmouth Aquatics, the Council on Aging, the 300 Committee, the Falmouth Housing Trust, Save the Nimrod, the Falmouth Soccer Club, the Falmouth Housing Authority, the beach department, the Falmouth Historical Commission, Oak Grove Cemetery, and the West Falmouth Village Association and West Falmouth Library. Additionally, the Community Preservation Committee includes a member from the planning board, the historical commission, the conservation commission, the recreation department and the Falmouth Housing Authority as well as four at-large members appointed by the board of selectmen.

At the conclusion of the rotations, people were given five votes to use in any combination for their preferred projects. The resulting ranking may be misleading as a guideline for CPC funding for specific projects—did recreation facilities for a new Falmouth senior center receive 15 votes because three people each used all five of their votes or because 15 people voted for it once? However, the overall ranking was instructive. Recreation received the largest number of votes, followed by historic preservation, then open space, with community housing barely registering, despite the long list of community housing needs identified at the meeting.

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Some projects do not qualify for CPA funds, which cannot be used for artificial turf or to build structures or to maintain buildings, recreation areas, beaches or open space. Those statutory restrictions were not discussed, but they eliminate several ideas, such as the construction of a Falmouth swimming pool, installation of an artificial turf field at the high school, or a new senior center building. However, a new senior center would qualify for funding to develop some types of recreational facilities or to build affordable housing for seniors or to preserve open space. The creation of a pre-school learning center at Teaticket Park is prohibited by the park’s conservation restriction, and playing fields can’t be installed on the landfill because it was not constructed to allow such activity. Developing heritage trails that combine the natural history of open spaces with information about historical landscape structures and features may not be possible because CPA funds may not be used for educational signage.

Projects qualifying for CPA funding include improving existing outdoors sports facilities like tennis courts and playing fields; enhancing Falmouth beaches with bathhouses, toilets, parking; expanding the Shining Sea Bikeway and establishing bike paths throughout the town; creating a preservation trust; improving Beebe Woods trails; using the Nobska Lighthouse acquisition as a preservation of an historic site or as a site for open space and recreation; linking open spaces with community housing; restoring and preserving the Nimrod, the Walter Zylinski house, former cattle tunnels under the Bikeway, the West Falmouth Methodist Church, and historic agricultural lands for local food production; establishing ecological connectivity among already existing open spaces; increasing dune vegetation and shrub lands to protect wetlands and shores and absorb flooding; and improving and conserving the Coonamessett River corridor.

Town management asked the CPC to develop a 10-year plan in order to align its funding activity with town planning and needs. Other ideas included the development of an historic preservation plan integrated with the economic development plan; exercise stations along the Shining Sea Bikeway; a public wooden boat building program; a parking lot in North Falmouth for Shining Sea Bikeway access; coordination of community housing development with historic preservation; development and use of community housing for Falmouth’s workforce; adaptive re-use of Genesis, the closed assisted living facility on Jones Road, for community housing; restoration of historic stone walls; and development of a GPS overlay map of historic stone walls and foundations.

The CPC is actively seeking additional input from those who were not present at the March needs assessment. It will hold an open meeting for potential funding applicants later this spring, and people are also welcome to speak during the designated time at CPC meetings. The CPC usually meets at 7 PM the second and fourth Thursdays of each month at the Falmouth Public Schools administration building at the intersection of Route 28 and Sandwich Road.

Residents may also submit their perceived needs, project ideas, and priorities online by completing the CPC needs assessment survey at www.surveymonkey.com/s/5P3SNXW. Announcements of CPC meetings, meeting minutes, the current CPC Plan, information about previously funded projects, application forms and other relevant links are posted on the CPC page on the Town of Falmouth website at www.falmouthmass.us. The CPC office in Town Hall is currently open Monday, Wednesday and Friday; telephone 508-457-2511, fax 508-495-7436, e-mail csutherland@falmouthmass.us.

(Ms. Carmichael is an at-large member of the Community Preservation Committee.)

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