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Mashpee looks to future with Commons agreement dissolving

Courtesy Mashpee Commons
Mashpee Commons
An early layout of what a future expansion of Mashpee Commons could look like

A first of its kind, three-party agreement that was billed as a way to shepherd in the large expansion of Mashpee Commons has dissolved.

The town of Mashpee dropped out of the agreement that also included the Commons, and the Cape Cod Commission.

The Commons is still looking to develop almost 200-acres that is around the existing shopping village right now. But how that will proceed is still unclear.

The most recent plan — at a maximum — would have been 17-hundred housing units, and 700-thousand square footage of new commercial space.

The majority of the buildings would have been 2 ,3 and 4 stories, but there would likely be 5-story buildings as well.

About three years ago, the Commons announced they were starting this expansion.

They wanted a zoning change passed by the town so that they could be more creative with their plans, rather than just building big box stores or 40B developments that are currently allowed in that area.

But when a basic outline of the expansion was announced, there was significant backlash from the public. Public meetings got nasty.

Some town officials wanted a commitment from the Commons that 20 percent of the housing would be affordable, which they didn’t get.

Eventually, the Commons stepped back from that zoning change request. Instead, they announced they would pursue an agreement with the Cape Cod Commission. That was over 2 years ago.

The Commons pitched the agreement as a way to gather all the stakeholders around one table where they could negotiate. Housing, open space, and traffic would be front and center for the negotiations.

But, they never got that far. The town dropped out of the agreement in early November, and the Commons never officially filed a plan.

The town’s select board said that their meetings were being bombarded with opponents of the development. All while they have a lot of other important issues like a massive sewer system they’re trying to build.

For the Commons developer Buff Chace said that the Commission’s process was complicated, and confusing for some people not used to the Commission review process.

He also said that it ultimately led to the spread of misinformation.

To explain a little, the Commission required the Commons to present the maximum footprint of the project. When that maximum plan got out to the public, Chace said that got engrained in residents’ minds, and ultimately led to social media posts with misinformation.

Now, opponents of the project CAI spoke to say that they are just doing their civic duty, attending meetings, and sharing information. But they also commented on the overall tri-party review process, and they felt the Commission favored the developer rather than the citizens of Mashpee.

As for the Commission, this was their first time hosting a tri-party agreement so we wanted to see if anything was learned in the process, but we didn’t hear back from them.

Moving forward, Mashpee town planner Evan Lehrer said it’s not necessarily a bad thing this agreement didn’t work, at least for the time being.

He says the town now has time to envision what they want to see years down the line in Mashpee — in terms of housing, open space, economic development, and more.

But housing is a big part of that, considering Mashpee — and much of the region — is well behind their housing goals, most importantly affordable and workforce housing.

Mashpee Commons and that 200 acres of undeveloped land is going to be a big part of that.

The town’s planning board is actually starting to review the town’s comprehensive plan, which is kind of a working document towns use for long-term planning. That could shape what the Commons can do with their property.

As for the opponents of the project CAI spoke to, they are also excited for this comprehensive plan review. They know that the Commons could be a part of helping ease this housing crisis, but they want to see it done responsibly and in a way that doesn’t take away the character of Mashpee.

Sam Houghton left CAI in February, 2023, to become News Editor at the Martha's Vineyard Times.
He worked at CAI since the summer of 2017. Before that, he worked at the Falmouth Enterprise, where he covered local politics.