Falmouth Planning Board, Neighbors Question 24-Foot Cupola On New CLOC Building

Landscape architect Kimberly Mercurio describes lighting plans for College Light Opera Company’s parking lot on its Chapoquoit Road Campus.

The size and use of a cupola atop a proposed rehearsal barn on College Light Opera Company’s Chapoquoit Road campus was the subject of debate at a Falmouth Planning Board hearing on Tuesday, September 10.

Three neighbors and multiple members of the planning board pointed out that the decorative structure was more than 25 feet long, 8 feet wide, and 10 feet tall.

“This is not a cupola,” chairwoman Patricia H. Kerfoot said of the size of the addition.

Without the cupola, the structure is 34 feet, 5 inches, just under the maximum height of a structure allowed by Falmouth’s zoning code. Falmouth’s bylaws allow “minor extensions of the structure ornamental in nature,” such as weather vains and cupolas to surpass the maximum height.

The cupola brings the total height of the proposed building to more than 45 feet.

Ms. Kerfoot said the cupola, “makes a mockery” of local height restrictions.

Susan Hoadley of Hoadley Martinez Architects, a Cohasset-based firm, said the cupola’s length and height were intentional. Its size helps emit as much light as possible into the rehearsal space, she said.

Ms. Kerfoot noted that if the cupola had a purpose, it was not purely decorative.

Planning board member John Druley suggested that the board seek outside confirmation from town counsel or the building commissioner about the whether or not the cupola could be deemed “decorative.”

Planning board member James E. Fox said it would be difficult to make a determination concerning the cupola without seeing full renderings of the proposed building. Multiple members of the board echoed concerns that the elevations on file did not adequately depict what the building would look like from multiple angles on the property.

Outside lighting was also a subject of debate at the hearing. Mr. Nickerson told the board that, after concerns were raised at a previous meeting, CLOC had eliminated one of four pole lights in the parking area.

Neighbors focused on the proposed lights shown on and around the new rehearsal barn. Susan Silbey of Old Dock Road said that the quantity of lighting shown on the plans would cast a “giant light” over the neighborhood at night. She also suggested that light might shine out from the cupola atop the rehearsal barn, creating a lighthouse effect.

Ms. Hoadley, the architect, noted that lights would be positioned below the windows so they would not actively shine past the windows of the cupola.

“There will be ambient light in that cupola when all the lights in that space are on, so it will appear from a distance like... [a] window that has inside lights on,” she said.

“So a soft glow and not a spotlight?” Mr. Druley asked.

“That’s what we want,” Ms. Hoadley said.

Kathleen Leone Seeley of Chapoquoit Road suggested that lights along the rear and back side of the building were positioned too close to the pond and might scare off wildlife at night.

Ms. Hoadley assured the board that the lights around the building were dark-sky compliant. This means that the individual bulb is capped on top to prevent light from shining upwards and creating light pollution.

She noted that there were two options for lighting the building: a few, large, higher-wattage lights and many, small, low wattage lights. The lighting plan showed the latter.

Neighbors noted that, regardless of the wattage, the building was entirely surrounded by lights.

Mark Pearson, College Light Opera Company executive director, explained that students come home between 11:15 and 11:30 PM. “Most of the exterior lighting is on a timer so it comes on at dusk and it stays on to about midnight,” Mr. Pearson said. Ms. Hoadley added that new lights could be on timers as will.

The property is covered by the Dover Amendment to Massachusetts General Laws. Building Commissioner Rod Palmer certified that the amendment applied to the property in March. The Dover Amendment prevents zoning bylaws or ordinances from regulating the use of land dedicated to religious or educational purposes. This means that during site plan review, the planning board cannot evaluate usage of the structures. They can only impose, “reasonable regulations concerning the bulk and height of structures and determining yard sizes, lot area, setbacks, open space, parking and building coverage requirements.”

Mr. Nickerson told the planning board that education would be the primary use of the structure and that CLOC hosts students three months out of the year. He added that he could not speak to other subordinate uses of the building, but that it was possible they would use it for alumni events.

Whether or not exterior lights will function on the property outside of the three months that CLOC has students on campus, was a subject of concern for neighbors.

Pamela Harting-Barrat, a member of the board, asked whether the building would be lit year-round. “Is there no lighting at all for the rest of the year or do you have to have some just for safety reasons?” she asked.

Mr. Nickerson said CLOC had not explored lighting year-round but could and would take safety into account.

The planning board continued the project to September 24. Ms. Kerfoot, on behalf of the board, asked CLOC and its architects to re-evaluate the cupola and quantity of lights around the building. Another board member, Mr. Fox, asked to see existing lighting on the property as well.

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