When No Means Yes

Webster Woods Debate Still Alive

The Town Meeting Trophies from last week will have to be enough. Falmouth Town Meeting: Night II, brought to light a more important truism: sometimes, no does indeed mean yes. If you think not, here are a few recent examples: when Manny Ramirez said, "no, I don't want to leave;" when we were told no, gas prices would never go back to $2 a gallon; and certainly last week, when Falmouth Town Meeting Members turned down the second of two articles on affordable development at Webster Woods. 

Yes - a majority of Town Meeting Members voted for article 41, which would have authorized building affordable units on three of the 15 acres of land adjacent to the Woods Hole Fire Station. Yes - the conservation restriction proposal on 12 of those acres was the reason the article didn't pass (that part necessitated the required 2/3 vote and was added to placate the naysayers), and surely yes - this issue has become, as one villager put it, "Woods Hole's cranberry bog," a local debate of epic proportions.

No, well, yes, this article itself and its result turned a negative into a positive. The majority (116 yes) Town Meeting Members who voted for placement of affordable housing in Woods Hole made a clear statement in support of the Affordable Housing Committee and their four (now nearly five) years of work. They made a clear statement in support of fairness and equity in the villages of our community, and offered a dismissal of the selective information offered by the ornery opposers of progress. 

You see, this issue, and its related debates on both sides has been a study in contrasts.   The opponents of this article would have had us believe that the alternative, a potentially viable affordable development at the bankrupt Oshman property, was light years ahead of development on the town-owned parcel. In contrast, though, we learned in reality that the Oshman development is a complex series of ifs and maybes - and that it could be years before it is ready to provide shelter for a hard working member of our community. For many, affordable housing has been an intellectual issue - a policy goal. In contrast, the discussion on this article gave us Patricia Herlihy, an eloquent, sincere, and eminently believable single mom who has been the beneficiary of developments like the one proposed by the volunteers of the Affordable Housing Committee.

The Selectmen themselves offered contrast in the form of contrarian views on this issue - and represent the division that still exists from village to village, from Little Harbor to Little Pond.

That lingering disagreement represents the biggest yes - the yes that we get to spend more time hashing this one out because our system, our local rule of law, says we can. What's more, by not saying yes (I think that's no at this point) to the first article (37), Town Meeting Members were clearly saying that the time has not come to restrict this property that was deeded to the town for municipal development and that all options are still available for a decision.

As maddening as these fits, starts, and delays may be to some, this process actually proves to me what a great system - and what a great town - we have. So, yes. Yes we can. We can embrace those ornery opposers as our partners in this local democratic experiment that has lasted in this locale for over 320 years. How can you say no to that?

This column is reprinted from the Falmouth Bulletin.

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