ORLEANS — In 2017, the town started delivering on some promises it made to itself while preparing to make more.
A new police station rose quickly at the corner of Eldredge Park Way and Route 28 while a consolidated DPW/natural resources headquarters began construction at the transfer station. Voters kept funds flowing to water quality projects and approved construction of the core of the downtown sewer collection system.
Citizens' appetite for tackling major projects was underscored when multi-million-dollar building projects were supported for both Nauset Regional High School and Cape Cod Regional Technical High School. Townspeople backed a rezoning plan that allowed increased residential zoning in the village center to address community housing needs. Meanwhile, supporters of Snow Library gathered data to bolster their argument for an expanded facility.
Civic engagement was the watchword. The shellfish and waterways improvement advisory committee took on oversight of the Lonnie's Pond nitrogen-removal-by-aquaculture experiment, and the architectural review committee shot down the big-box CVS proposed for Skaket Corners. Volunteers revived the moribund bike and pedestrian committee, and at year's end interest rose in bringing back the town's commission on disabilities.
A Bigger Stake In Water Quality Projects
In 2017, the town kept pace with a demanding schedule of studies and expenditures to clean up local waters. Voters were picky, approving almost $3 million in May to identify discharge sites for treated wastewater (effluent), continue the nitrogen removal experiment at Lonnie's Pond, and initiate the clean-up of fresh water ponds, but deferring funds for 25 percent design work on a wastewater collection system for Meetinghouse Pond. Money would also be spent to investigate a plume of pollutants flowing from the capped landfill toward Town Cove. In October, voters OK'd $3.68 million to install a sewer system under Main Street between Old Colony Way and Route 28, arranging a pause in the state's intersection improvement work so the street wouldn't have to be dug up twice.
Housing Options Draw Attention, Support
Many residents turned out for a forum held as part of a community housing needs survey, responding to the lack of options for, among others, downsizing seniors, young families, and people with disabilities. Town meeting rezoned the downtown village to increase residential density, an option long sought by local developers. The affordable housing committee advocated for authority to use housing trust funds more expeditiously when properties become available and flagged the need for a housing specialist, perhaps one shared with neighboring towns. Cape Cod Village, a residence for adults on the autism spectrum, secured financial backing.
Defending Community Character, By Land And Sea
One of the privileges of residence in Orleans is free admission to one of the greatest shows on earth: the Atlantic Ocean at Nauset Beach. The town continued working with Woods Hole Group on a long-term retreat of its facilities from the eroding cliff edge. Late in the year, selectmen dropped plans to put up a temporary building that could be used by Liam's clam shack, opting instead to let nature decide if the beloved venue's lease will end before its term. The board also tangled with Chatham, trying to ensure that the other town would take back enforcement duties on its share of Nauset (North) Beach. Orleans celebrated a successful habitat conservation effort that saw endangered species get their families started and get off the beach in time for over-sanders to enjoy its full length.
Back in town, CVS wanted to plop one of its big-box stores at the corner of Route 6A and West Road on the lot still occupied by the closed (and missed) Hearth 'n Kettle restaurant. Members of the architectural review committee did their homework and found much to criticize about the generic building landing at such a prominent location, a gateway to Orleans. The application was withdrawn. Just across the street, the “brown-out” of landscaping planted to block the view of Eversource's utility substation led selectmen to ask Town Counsel Michael Ford how the utility could be held to its promise to maintain the site.
Revenue Options Raised
Stuck between a rock (the 2½ percent cap on tax levy increases that's the law in Massachusetts) and a hard place (the ever-increasing costs of medical benefits and other double-digit budget busters), the selectmen created a revenue committee to look at what the town could do to raise funds outside of tax hikes. The committee prescribed tough medicine, advising that some services should be set up as enterprise funds and eventually be fully self-supporting through fees. The idea was hard to swallow in a town that doesn't even charge its residents a beach sticker fee; town meeting agreed to accept state law that allows creation of enterprise funds, but rejected the rest of the committee's warrant articles. Before its dissolution, the “revenuers” called again for the town to do much more in pursuing state and federal grants.
Are Happy Days Here Again?
Riding an energetic get-out-the-vote campaign led by the chamber of commerce, Orleans soared to second place in Coastal Living magazine's America's Happiest Seaside Towns 2017 contest. Somehow, Grand Haven, Mich. finished first, perhaps due to its dizzying Disney-like collection of outdoors amusements that include a thousand-steps walkway over a 200-foot dune, a mile-and-a-half boardwalk that leads to a lighthouse, and a musical fountain. As 2018 neared, no one in Orleans was talking about moving up the list by building a roller coaster at Nauset Beach.