The Mashpee Planning Board voted unanimously at its meeting at Town Hall on Wednesday, September 1, to hire consultants to review components of a proposed Mashpee Commons expansion related to traffic and environmental impacts.
The consultants will be asked to review the scope of a traffic study proposed by the Mashpee Commons to the Cape Cod Commission and the level of environmental impact review that the expansion could require, including whether the project could trigger a Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act review.
“The Cape Cod Commission is working with the applicant on environmental issues and traffic issues,” planning board member Mary E. Waygan said. “So while those decisions are being made over in Barnstable, not here, I think we need to consultant up so that we can have these discussions with somebody that is impartial and has our interests as our goal.”
The Mashpee Commons has proposed a three-party development agreement that would lay out the terms of the expansion project. The planning board would be the negotiating body for the Town of Mashpee in the process of drafting the agreement.
Thus far, the Commons has presented the planning board with a proposed zoning bylaw that would allow for expansion on 187 contiguous acres surrounding and including the existing mixed-use development at the Commons.
The proposal by the Commons, which is in the process of completing the development agreement application with the Commission, would allow for construction of just over 1,600 new dwelling units and some 700,000 square feet of commercial density over 25 years.
A memorandum from VHB, a civil engineering company working with the Commons, submitted to the Cape Cod Commission in January, and the subsequent response from the Commission, were the subject of much debate by the planning board.
The memo proposes the methodology and scope of a traffic study for the expansion project and requests that the Mashpee Commons “provide review and comment on key components associated with the preparation of a Traffic Impact and Access Study.”
Because the expansion project is phased over 25 years, the memo from VHB “suggests taking an alternate approach to establishing the study area” and proposes that 17 intersections be studied in an initial traffic study.
In an email to the executive director of the Cape Cod Commission dated August 9, Town Planner Evan Lehrer points out “a notable discrepancy” between the VHB memo and what the Commons has presented to the planning board.
While the VHB memo considers a proposed expansion of 1,100 dwelling units and 180,500 square feet of commercial space, the planning board has been presented with plans for more than 1,600 new units and 700,000 square feet of commercial space, Mr. Lehrer said in the email.
In response to Mr. Lehrer, the executive director of the Commission, Kristy Senatori, referred the town planner to the Commission’s response to the VHB scope of work proposal, dated May 4.
“The Commission staff agrees that this approach is appropriate for the initial Development Agreement review process, with the caveat that further trip generation analysis will be required as the project is implemented,” the Commission said in the response. The Commission also suggested that one additional intersection be studied.
Some planning board members raised concerns that the scope proposed in the memo was too small because it did not review the entirety of the proposed project.
“I want a study for the whole project, a traffic study,” planning board member Dennis Balzarini said. “It’s like, ‘Oh, we give you a little piece so you don’t see the rest and you’re not going realize how big this project is going to really be.’”
Ms. Waygan said, “I have never seen a project that is defined this size, a certain size, for an agreement and a bylaw change but the impact study is looking at something that is far smaller.”
Other planning board members disagreed that the traffic study should include the whole project.
“My feeling is we’re a little bit ahead of ourselves here,” planning board member John Phelan said. “I think there are going to be modifications which [are] going to reduce the size of this, which is going to change the scope of the traffic study.”
The chairman of the planning board, John Fulone, said, “I think what they’re suggesting...is in the development agreement we would have stipulations that as phases progress we would have another traffic study, [then] we would have another traffic study.”
The board agreed that a traffic consultant could help provide a better assessment of the proposed scope of the initial traffic study and whether it addresses the interests of the town.
“We don’t have consensus, and instead of guessing I’d like to have a traffic consultant to help us with that,” Ms. Waygan said.