Planning Committee Seeks Input On Visioning Harwich’s Future

by William F. Galvin

HARWICH – Community members spent more than two hours on Saturday providing ideas and perspectives to help guide the town’s future growth and resource protection.

The community engagement forum was one of two gatherings planned by the local planning committee to better understand what residents view as important when envisioning the future of Harwich.

The committee is working with consultants Tighe and Bond, Inc. to upgrade the town’s local comprehensive plan. The plan seeks to define the community’s vision for the future, said Sharon Rooney, principal planner with Tighe and Bond.

The local planning committee has been working over the past six months to gather information from residents through postcards and a more in-depth community survey to inform the updated plan. The first engagement forum was held at 204 Sisson Saturday, and a second engagement forum is scheduled for Saturday, April 6 at 1 p.m. at the community center.

Information gathered to date, Rooney said, shows a shift away from the 2010 plan update, which focused on growth, with people now more concerned about growth management and protection of the environment and natural resources.

Approximately 20 people attended Saturday’s session, which included workshops where participants got to focus on housing visioning, land use and growth, environmental resources and open space, and community services, facilities and infrastructure. General concerns related to population density, housing, wastewater, seasonality of community and transportation issues. Preservation of historic structures also received strong support.

Local planning committee chair Joyce McIntyre highlighted the collegiality and respect the committee has shown during the input gathering process, adding that all ideas are welcome.

With regard to housing, participants made it clear that there is a major need for affordable and attainable housing for year-round workers and young families. There were concerns expressed about the loss of youngsters and young families and the impact on educational facilities. The need for more diverse housing types, including mixed-use developments and restoration of existing vacant buildings in the seven villages, was a strong theme. Duplexes and townhouses for young families were also recommended.

Rooney said her firm is also doing a housing plan and recreation and open space plan for the town. Among the warnings offered by participants was that housing development should occur where appropriate and that responsible development can be accomplished. It was also suggested zoning needs to be addressed. One recommendation suggested that “housing should be looked at through an environmental lens.”

There was a range of opinions on land use and growth and whether there should be more or less development. There were recommendations for higher density in the village centers and other comments related to the need to protect woodlands, ponds and beaches. There was also a push for more trails, bike paths and sidewalks in discussing environmental resources and open space. Among favorite activities identified were bird watching, hiking and walking in woodlands. Controlling the amount of trees that get cut during development projects also received strong support.

The sand pit in East Harwich was identified as a location where mixed-use development would be suitable. The Six Ponds Special District, Bell’s Neck Conservation Area and Thompson’s Field should remain as open space, participants agreed.

Expansion of the town’s wastewater infrastructure, participants agreed, was very necessary moving forward and could allow higher affordable housing density in some areas of town. Such infrastructure was also cited as being instrumental in protecting the public water supply, ponds and the marine environment. Providing open space around public water wells was also highlighted.

The cost of sewering infrastructure was on the mind of participant Richard Houston, who said that in the late 1970s the federal government was willing to fund the cost of such infrastructure.

“Now it’s left for local communities to pay for it and these people who can’t even afford affordable housing,” Houston said.

As for community services, facilities and infrastructure, sewering was again identified as the major need. There was support for establishing a town swimming pool from a number of participants, but there were also comments on a pool being a want and not a need.

“Both needs and wants should be considered in community visioning,” said local planning committee member Ed McManus.

Establishing more of a year-round business community was one recommendation relating to services. Additional parking, especially in Harwich Port, was also supported by participants. Traffic calming, sidewalks, bike lanes and correcting Y intersections such as Route 39 and Chatham Road also received strong support. There was also a lot of support for expanding childcare opportunities.

McIntyre said in responses received from postcards and the survey one thing people love about Harwich is the people of the town, their friends and neighbors.

Patrick Otton questioned whether the local comprehensive plan updated in 2010 was ever followed. He wanted to know how residents could be sure this update would be implemented. Rooney said that the plan will be approved by town meeting and reviewed by the Cape Cod Commission. It will have schedules for implementation and identify who will be responsible for actions. The 2010 update probably did not have those instructions, she said.

“It’s really important that the plan has some teeth in it. I’m hoping it’s got the bite to implement the plan,” said Otton.

A draft of the plan is expected to be completed by the end of the calendar year, Rooney said.