It is important that all voices be heard.
I agree with Mashpee Selectman Andrew Gottlieb that we must have hard—yet good faith—conversations and work toward compromise to ensure the proposed expansion of Mashpee Commons benefits and meets the needs of the entire community.
It has always been our mission to seek input and collaborate with the community as Mashpee Commons evolves. Beginning in 2017, we held a multiyear community engagement process focused on the proposed expansion project that is currently under consideration. Through multiple public meetings, forums, work sessions and design charrettes, hundreds of townspeople participated and provided thoughtful and meaningful feedback.
Our goal of community collaboration is the reason Mashpee Commons embarked on a three-party development agreement to include the town as a full party in an otherwise regional discussion with the Cape Cod Commission. It is also the reason Mashpee Commons asked the Mashpee Planning Board in April to consider zoning that would accommodate an expansion that would ultimately contribute much-needed affordable and workforce housing stock. We have yet to reach the constructive level of cooperative dialogue that we had hoped these inclusive efforts would allow.
I also concur with selectman Gottlieb that the conversation about the proposed Mashpee Commons expansion immediately became acrimonious and divisive and has led to misinformation and confusion. The discussion of local zoning changes to build upon the existing mixed-use community at Mashpee Commons is a crucial and valuable opportunity to help the town and region proactively plan for housing and the environmental and economic challenges that we must address now to ensure future sustainability. This important community discussion has been overshadowed and overtaken by the politics of polarization on social media and widespread misinformation. The ultimate sacrifice of this fight will be community members who can no longer afford to live in the town where they grew up or work because we, as a community, could not see past what divides us.
Cape Cod witnessed unprecedented residential growth in the 1980s and 1990s, and Mashpee had been the fastest-growing town. Many towns responded with a change to two-acre zoning during that growth period. Although this tactic prevented thousands of new houses from being built, it encouraged sprawling development that lacked adequate wastewater infrastructure, created additional traffic and proliferated a monoculture of single-family homes that have become increasingly less affordable. The result has replaced much of historic Cape Cod with residential sprawl that is deforesting the land and degrading our water quality.
During this time, Mashpee Commons was creating a nationally recognized example of smart growth and traditional community center development, complete with its own wastewater treatment plant that also carries the town’s police, fire, council on aging and library buildings.
Traditional New England development, with more people living closer together, adds to community character while leaving a lighter environmental footprint. We need to move away from single-use zoning and focus on building communities with walkable streets and housing choices where residents of all ages and incomes can shop, eat, go to school and enjoy their neighborhoods. Where people can rely less on or live without automobiles while preserving natural areas, local parks and opportunities for active living today and in the future. We need land use choices that make sure tax dollars are spent wisely by encouraging growth where we can provide the supporting infrastructure. We need to link development and transportation decisions to address climate change and environmental factors, both within our project and the broader region, and we need to ensure an open and predictable planning process. Our goal is to work with the town to make this a reality.
Using a 25-year plan with public input, the proposal adds 1,228 residential units and an additional 614,000 square feet of commercial space. Although the numbers may seem large to some, the addition of these units to the town’s total buildout would still see Mashpee producing housing at record low numbers since the expansion of the 1980s, and the proposed commercial maximum is approximately 200,000 square feet less than what could be built under existing zoning.
The Commons already has significant development rights and is zoned for commercial use. The question is what do you want on that land? Big-box stores and other commercial development or a mixed-use model that allows a diversity of residential housing types and small businesses to create a true village setting? The proposed three-party development agreement would limit some of the existing commercial rights in favor of a more-balanced and -integrated neighborhood design. Unlike gated communities already permitted by the town, this proposal would welcome everyone, not overextend expensive infrastructure, and would address environmental concerns while adding to the town’s tax revenue every year.
The 187 acres that comprise Mashpee Commons will be developed. The chance for the town to be an equal partner in what the outcome of that development will look like and how it will work is the issue at hand. Saying “no” before the discussion begins is saying “yes” to development under the existing costly and outdated zoning. This community deserves better.
Ms. Chace is a partner at Mashpee Commons LP.