The Falmouth Planning Board is considering a Town Meeting article that would bring into its authority most of the functions of the design review committee. The committee’s oversight of style and appearance of new buildings would be absorbed by the planning board. Oversight of sign regulations would remain with the design review committee.
It is a good idea. As planning board members pointed out, it would give the public better opportunities to see and participate in the design review process. It might also be noted that the planning board already does a thorough site plan review and incorporating design review will not add much to the board’s workload.
It could be argued that the design review committee is advisory; there is no fee for its work and it is therefore useful to developers and business owners as a first step before plans are filed with the planning board or zoning board of appeals.
While useful to developers, perhaps, design and style are important elements that are better off in the hands of elected officials who answer directly to the public.
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Advisory committees in recent years have had, it seems, less and less influence in directing town policy and planning.
The transportation management commission resigned en masse not too long ago. Recently, the affordable housing citizens’ roundtable planning committee was formed. It is ostensibly a subcommittee of the affordable housing committee but it is led by the assistant town planner and most of its membership is not from the affordable housing committee. Except for its long name, it seems to be a good working group. But what happened to the affordable housing committee and why is it not doing the work?
Now the planning board is moving to take over much of the function of the design review committee.
Advisory committees are in concept a very good idea. They are a good way to focus on particular issues when no other town committee or board can. But they should not be created as a permanent solution.
Town Meeting created the design review committee at the request of the planning department almost 25 years ago. Its purpose, eloquently described several years later by Noah Greenberg, was to “protect the unique qualities of our town, to educate our citizens on the value of good civic designs, to identify our common objectives in design and to be of assistance in creating a demand for appropriate and responsive design throughout Falmouth.”
Falmouth in the early 1990s was still undergoing rapid growth and change. Times have changed and so too, apparently, have the objectives of the design review committee.
At some point the usefulness of advisory committees should be reviewed. If they are not effective, they should be disbanded. Or, if the original purpose has been lost over time, they should be redirected with new energy.
Correction August 7, 2014, 3:56 PM: Changed traffic advisory committee to transportation management commission in sixth paragraph.