HARWICH — The planning board is in the process of putting more teeth into the Commercial Village Overlay District in Harwich Port, converting what are currently voluntary guidelines into mandatory zoning requirements.
Town officials had been of the opinion the overlay district in Harwich Port was a zoning provision with the same legal force as other zoning bylaws, but that understanding was challenged when Cumberland Farms sought to reconstruct a new convenience store along Route 28 in Harwich Port.
The planning board used provisions of the Village Commercial Overlay District to try to shape the layout of the new store a couple of years ago, relocate the expanded gas dispensing and canopy area away from the front of the property and move the new store to the edge of the sidewalk, more in keeping with historic village standards spelled out in the overlay district.
The mandatory application of the overlay district bylaw was challenged by Cumberland Farms, and a court ruling determined the provisions of the overlay district were voluntary and the planning board did not have the authority to dictate adherence.
The planning board began discussing amendments to the bylaw last week, with Planning Board Chairman Larry Brophy stating the goal of making the pointing voluntary provisions mandatory.
“We'd be taking a voluntary district and making it the zoning” for the district, board member James Atkinson said.
Town Planner Aly Sabatino said the plan is not to expand the footprint of the existing district, which stretches from Freeman Street to Lower County Road and covers properties fronting on Route 28 and extending back 200 feet. The goal is to remove the present Commercial Village Overlay District and replace it with a Port Village District, which will become the underlying zoning. Many of the regulations will be much the same, she said.
But there were several issues relative to the type of development that should be allowed in the Port Village District. The board is examining how to deal with single-family homes, single-family homes with an accessory apartment and whether to allow the storage of trailers and boats. Board members were clear they did not want to alter the present district requirements substantially.
Board member David Harris said if the town wanted to make significant changes, it could be done in the future through additional town meeting action. Atkinson pointed out that before town planner David Spitz retired, a complete zoning study along Route 28 from Chatham to Dennis was being considered, and he recommended looking at that stretch in the future.
“Let's get this into place so we're not faced with the same situation as Cumberland Farms again,” Atkinson said. Brophy agreed, adding the task should be a pretty simple.
The board began discussing how to approach single-family development in the proposed district, with Atkinson suggested it should be allowed through a special permit. Board member Mary Maslowski said single-family homes should be allowed by right. There are few single-family lots in the district, she added, while there is a need for single-family homes in town. Brophy concurred, but he also said land in the district is worth more as commercial property, and accessory apartments should also be allowed in compliance with the intent of the district.
Harris noted there are single-family dwellings from Bank Street east to Freeman Street, but added its is economically unlikely single-family dwellings will be developed in the district. In the end the board agreed single-family homes should be permitted as a matter of right in the overlay district and single-family homes with accessory apartments allowed under a special permit.
While commercial boat storage is not allowed in the district, the board agreed that storage of trailers and boats should be allowed in conjunction with residential use, though changes in front, rear and sideline setbacks might limit those opportunities. They discussed having a zero- to 10-foot front, zero sideline and 10 feet rear setbacks. The setback in the commercial village is 20 feet right now, but under the present overlay district, the planning board can grant a waiver based on site plan review of a project.
Atkinson said the planning board should have the right to waive dimensional setbacks in the proposed district. Sabatino said she would add that provision to the amendment. The board will continue discussion on the Port Village District in its Nov. 14 meeting.
Board members also agreed to inform selectmen as to their proposal for the new district. Atkinson said time is important due to the need to conduct public hearings and prepare amendments for next May's town meeting warrant. The changes will require a two-thirds majority vote to implement.