The Cape Cod Commission has completed a planning report that casts a vision for the appearance of Davis Straits 50 years into the future, with suggestions for small steps the town can take in the short term.
Among some changes suggested were two new greenway corridors with walking trails and public recreational opportunities, one connecting Falmouth Inner Harbor to Morse Pond, and the other restoring wetlands, where the Falmouth Mall and parking lot currently exist.
Both projects would require the town to acquire parcels of land as they become available over time and “un-develop” them.
However, according to the plan, other areas with frontage on Davis Straits would become more densely developed, diversified and pedestrian-friendly. The report envisions mixed-use buildings constructed closer to the streets with parking lots tucked behind, similar to Main Street.
The report suggests a passive planning strategy, whereby the town would change building and zoning regulations in the next few years. The intent would be to slowly effect major changes over time with development turnover.
If the plan were to succeed, a drive along Davis Straits would look drastically different in 50 years than it does today.
The study is part of the Cape Cod Commission’s Community Design RESET (Regional Economic Strategy Executive Team) program. The commission was tasked with developing the study, following meetings with town selectmen and planning board members in March of last year.
Cape Cod Commission staff presented the completed report to the Falmouth Planning Board during a meeting on Tuesday, March 7.
The study analyzes 79.6 acres along Route 28 and the surrounding neighborhoods, between the intersection of Worcester Court and Jones Road and down to Scranton Avenue.
In general, the study suggested that larger commercial developments be clustered around major intersections, with mixed-use areas lining Davis Straits and its major side streets. Smaller side streets farther from Route 28 would transition into more residential mixed-use development.
Sharon J. Rooney, chief planner with the commission, predicted that a transition toward more mixed-use development would mitigate future traffic impacts along Davis Straits in the future.
Board member Pamela Harting-Barrat spoke in favor of the zoning and building changes, noting that making the area more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly could attract young people to work in Falmouth.
“Younger people like to bike to work; their lifestyle is quite different from our lifestyle,” she said. “I think it could be an amazing change for the town. Very very slow change. Exceedingly slow.”
Abandon Flood Zones
In addition, commission staff suggested that development be transitioned out of Federal Emergency Management Agency flood zones and onto higher elevations over time; the flood areas would be transformed into greenway corridors, which would provide recreational benefits and increase the area’s flood storage capacity.
The greenway replacing the Falmouth Mall would connect Teaticket Park to the conservation land on Spring Bars Road, with Little Pond Brook running between the two.
The existing parking lot would be converted to grassland habitat, while surrounding areas—currently occupied by larger stores including Walmart, Shaw’s and TJ Maxx—would be restored to wetland habitats.
A second greenway connecting Falmouth Harbor to Morse Pond would require the town to acquire land on either side of a partially underground stream, also in the floodplain.
Some of the properties proposed to be “un-developed” include the Island Queen parking lot, Dairy Queen and the Falmouth Inn.
If that area were turned into a greenway, it would clear a vista all the way from Main Street to Falmouth Inner Harbor and create an open field “reminiscent of the area’s agricultural past,” the study says.
In the 1850s, an above-ground stream connected the two water bodies, and the land north of Falmouth Inner Harbor was natural marshland.
In addition, the plan suggests transitioning the parking lot and retail plaza just northwest of Falmouth Heights Road into a public park.
Although the vision for the two proposed greenways is 50 years into the future, commission staff suggested that the planning board soon adopt a conceptual plan and begin to prioritize land parcels for acquisition or easements.
In coming years, the town could keep an eye out for properties subject to foreclosure and work with the Community Preservation Committee to identify potential properties for acquisition.
One financing mechanism for the greenway corridors could be District Increment Funding (DIF), according to the study. If the town were to designate Davis Straits as a DIF district, it could designate property tax revenues from redevelopment in the area toward building the greenway.
Also among a list of action items was that the town consider establishing form-based code in the Davis Straits area.
Form-based code is an unconventional form of zoning that regulates development by the scale and form of buildings rather than the type of use. It is meant to better regulate how buildings interact with the public façade, while granting developers more flexibility.
Planning board member Mark J. Cool worried that form-based code could facilitate development that would overwhelm water resources in the area and overburden the town sewer.
Ms. Rooney said that the town could still place restrictions on development alongside form-based code, such as a cap on wastewater generation.
She added that creation of the two greenway corridors would also offset new development.
Board member Robert J. Leary supported the idea of form-based code in the Davis Straits area.
“It makes for a better-looking environment, as well as a more user-friendly environment, too.”
In the short-term, planning board members were advised to change dimensional regulations in some areas along Davis Straits and require new construction to build closer to sidewalks.
Any changes to building requirements would not take away the rights of existing property owners, but affected properties would become “pre-existing nonconforming structures.”
Also in the short-term, commission staff suggested that the planning board not approve gas stations at Davis Straits intersections in the future, and advised that the town continue with plans for a roundabout at the intersection of Main Street and Falmouth Heights Road.
One specific suggestion was to consider adding a building in front of the Gus Canty Community Center to better define the streetscape and promote pedestrian activity.
Commission staff said that, ultimately, the town would need to come to a consensus on its vision for Davis Straits and create a master plan for adoption by Town Meeting.
The study was met with overwhelming support from planning board members.
“Thank you. This is tremendous,” chairman James E. Fox said. “We really appreciate it.”