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New mapping tool aims to preserve green space and help create housing on Cape Cod

Housing Assistance Corporation
A new online map produced by a collaboration between the Association to Preserve Cape Cod and the Housing Assistance Corporation aims to give the public a land-use tool that would help distinguish what land is suitable for housing, and what is suitable for preserving as open space.

Environmentalists and housing advocates can often be at odds when it comes to what to do with undeveloped and unprotected land.

But the producers of a new online mapping tool say that by working together, they could help resolve the Cape's housing crisis while also protecting environmentally sensitive areas.

That's the motivation behind a new initiative launched this week after two years of study called Grow Smart Cape Cod.

The local non-profits Association to Preserve Cape Cod and the Housing Assistance Corporation created the online map using GIS technology that highlights properties on the Cape suitable for housing development, and properties that should be protected.

Corporation CEO Alisa Magnotta says land-use planners can use the map when towns are looking at places to develop affordable or workforce housing, or if there's disagreement over how to rule on proposed housing development. Many Cape Cod housing projects have faced legal hurdles filed by neighbors, some claiming that the property is in an environmentally sensitive area.

“You can look at this map and see whether or not there’s validity to that claim," Magnotta says. "That’s very important to us as we go into this crisis of a shortage of year-round housing.” For instance, local realtors are reporting there are fewer than 150 homes for sale on the market under a million dollars, outpacing last year when more than a thousand were for sale under the threshold.

The map highlights areas and property in deep purple that the Housing Assistance Corporation prioritized for housing. Those are neighborhoods that are close to schools and public transportation, but are also connected to a sewer system, or will be in the near future.

Parcels that are shaded in deep green the Association to Preserve Cape Cod may be a wetland or water protection area, or critical habitat - land that should not be developed.

The ultimate hope of the tool is that land-use planners or local residents or the private sector can use the map to consider how to make the best of land on the Cape. Whether that might mean creating new zoning that promotes dense housing where the map suggests dense housing could go. Or advocating for infrastructure for some areas, are pushing back against development in environmentally sensitive areas.

Magnotta says the beginning of the collaboration with the Association to Preserve Cape Cod was challenging, as the Housing Assistance Corporation advocated for housing. But ultimately, the two groups settled on parameters and a set of basic facts, which gives the initiative more validity.

“That’s really the driving impetus for these maps, is to have something that people could refer to that’s agnostic, that’s not swayed by someone’s influence, or desire, or opinion."