Mashpee Commons and the Mashpee Planning Board are on the same page in terms of unveiling plans for possible future expansion at the town’s major business hub.
Following concerns from the planning board’s chairman, Mary E. Waygan, in June, the Commons promised presentations made to the planning board and to the public prior to proposing any substantial zoning changes at Town Meeting.
The promise for public meetings has eased concerns on the planning board brought up by Ms. Waygan. Commons officials hoped to meet individually with planning board members before coming before them in a public meeting, but Ms. Waygan confirmed with the state that private meetings would violate open meeting law. In a letter to the Commons, she urged them to make a pitch to the board in public.
The Commons has scheduled Wednesday, September 6 for such a meeting.
Also, citing goals of “complete transparency” and a more adequate timetable, the Commons will aim for the spring Town Meeting to present its proposed zoning changes instead of the upcoming October Town Meeting.
“Mashpee Commons is happy to be working with the Mashpee Planning Board and the entire town administration to present a vision for how the Commons can continue to be a community asset into the future,” spokesperson with the Commons, Tony Simon said in a statement Tuesday, August 1. “We thank Chairman Waygan and the Board for providing the opportunity to present on September 6, and we look forward to working with all stakeholders to design a planning process for the neighborhood that seeks and incorporates community input and continues to make Mashpee Commons the special place that it is.”
Ms. Waygan, reached Wednesday, August 2, said she is thrilled that the Commons has chosen to meet for a public presentation. “We are eager to hear their presentation,” she said. She also encouraged the public to attend the meeting on September 6 to make their concerns heard and to see the Commons’s plans.
She said that the Commons would also make future presentations to the public at the Mashpee Public Library.
While public meetings have been scheduled, few specifics about a Commons expansion have been released yet.
Planners and other executives with the Commons have not filed any official plans but they have met for several months with Mashpee town officials to discuss what could be a substantial zoning change for their future development, even foregoing Chapter 40B.
Chapter 40B is a state statute that enables local zoning boards of appeals to approve affordable housing developments under more flexible density rules than standard town zoning, if at least 25 percent of the units have long-term affordability restrictions.
The Commons currently has an approved and permitted Chapter 40B plan that calls for 382 units of a 40B housing project on 60.7 acres; 96 of the units would be affordable. The Mashpee Zoning Board of Appeals approved and permitted the concept in February 2007, and has extended the deadline a number of times. Construction of the first phase began in November 2014.
While a zoning change proposal at this stage has not seen public light, the planning board has alluded to a concept called “form-based code” that the Commons might use.
The Form-Based Codes Institute—a nonprofit professional organization from Washington, DC, and dedicated to advancing the understanding and use of form-based codes—describes on its website that the code “offers a powerful alternative to conventional zoning regulation.”
Town officials say form-based codes could offer more flexibility than Chapter 40B.
At an earlier meeting in July, a detail emerged that the Commons has looked at 10 percent affordable housing in the development with its new plans instead of 25 percent. Town planner F. Thomas Fudala made the comment following concerns from the chairman of the Mashpee Affordable Housing Committee Walter “Bud” Abbott Jr. about the lack of affordable housing in the Commons, and the speed of development.
Mr. Fudala also took exception to comments made by the Commons in the Mashpee Enterprise calling Mashpee’s bylaws “antiquated.” He said that Mashpee’s bylaws are as up to date as any bylaws in the state.
Mr. Simon, in a written statement to the Enterprise in June, had said that Mashpee’s bylaws were antiquated and challenging, leading the Commons to look into “best practices” for putting forth their plans.
The Commons was expected to make a presentation to the board at the July 5 meeting but canceled due to a number of officials being out on vacation. They rescheduled for Wednesday but the meeting was subsequently rescheduled to September 6; Town Planner F. Thomas Fudala is on vacation for the month of August.