Rush Of Historic Demolitions Sought In Campground

By: William F. Galvin

Topics: History , Harwich Port , Development

The historic district and historical commission agreed to remove a demolition delay on a home in the Campground area. WILLIAM F. GALVIN PHOTO

HARWICH PORT — More than two years ago the historic district and historical commission were having serious discussions about the need for establishing a historic district to preserve the eclectic character of the Ocean Grove Campground south of Route 28.

The 11-acre area was home to the Spiritualist Movement of the late 1800s. The small lots and narrow streets initially provided room for tents for a few weeks during the summer. In the period between the 1880s and 1910 one-and-a-half story carpenter Gothic structures replaced tents on the small lots.

As families grew and owners looked to retirement, the desire for more room in these cottages began to weigh on the Campground. Those pressures have continued and accelerated as cottage owners look to provide sound housing and 2016 amenities on the narrow slivers of land along Nantucket Sound.

The historic district never came to fruition, but the town has a bylaw allowing the commission to invoke up to a one-year demolition delay on properties more than 100 years old which the commission determines are historically significant to the community.
Attorney William Crowell was before the commission last Wednesday with three Campground projects for which owners have sought to demolish the existing structure and construct another building on the lot. Crowell was representing Russell and Pamela Adams, owners of 18 Ocean Ave, and Jillian and Christian Bichsel, owners of 26 Ocean Ave. Both structures are more than 100 years old. Crowell was also representing William and Christine Eldredge, who were adjusting the design to replicate a structure at 19 Park Place after the commission had invoked the demolition delay bylaw.

Both the Adams and the Bichsel dwellings are one-and-a-half store, wood-frame, late-Victorian front-gabled, eclectic cottages. Crowell pointed out neither are on the National Register of Historic Places or have a historic designation from the Massachusetts Historical Commission. However, they are on the Harwich inventory list.

In both instances, Crowell cited the absence of criteria to determine the site has historic significance. Speaking to the Adams property, Crowell said a structural engineering report said the cottage was in poor condition. The Bichsel cottage, known as “Wigwam,” was described as “a wooden tent.” Crowell said it is a “mishmash. In my opinion it's a house that deserves to be torn down in the Campground. You're dealing with obsolescence.”

But commission members emphasized the importance of streetscape and replication. Chairman Greg Winston cited a legal opinion from town counsel giving the commission the authority to work with property owners to develop a better project through replication.

“In this case neighborhood streetscape is significant,” member Miranda Dewitt said of the Adams proposal. It was a message also driven home on the Bichsel proposal. Commission members made it clear they would like to see retention of structures and where possible replication where sections of a structure cannot be saved.

Winston called partial demolitions “shells of homes, a shadow of history and sometimes bones of history.” Dewitt cited the importance of retaining original structures, maintaining history rather than the “Disney World effect, making them look like an old one.”

Crowell pointed out the Adams cottage would not survive lifting and relocation because of its condition. Christian Bichsel said Wigwam has nothing left, it has been infested by insects and last year a family of foxes lived beneath it. He called it a health problem.

“The neighborhood is evolving and people are using their houses. They want to renovate up to 2016,” said Ken Miller, a Campground resident. “You're going to force people to wait a year and do what they want. The board of appeals says no construction in the summer months so its a year-and-a-half delay, a hardship.”

Speaking to the Bichsel situation, Miller called Wigwam a “wooden tent” and said most people don't want to see it there. Lindsay Hale, also a Campground resident, took issue with the condition of the Wigwam cottage, stating it has been neglected and now the owners want it taken down. She related a story of tenants who had been staying there coming to her looking for another rental because water was running down on the electric box.

Crowell pointed out both owners have board of appeals and board of health approvals for their proposals.

“New dwellings can maintain streetscape. It's not Victorian Spiritualists anymore in black hats and black coats, coming in a horse and buggy,” Crowell said.

The commission in both hearings voted to invoke the demolition delay bylaw. Winston pointed out the commission stands ready to work with the applicants, and the demolition delay does not have to remain in effect for the entire year if retention, replication and streetscape issues can be worked out. The commission set a work session for both the Adams and Bichsel projects for June 8.

By way of example, the commission that night entertained a revised proposal by the Eldredges for their property at 19 Park Place in the Campground. The existing building was described by Winston as an example of an iconic structure in the neighborhood. The commission had previously voted to invoke the demolition delay on the project.

Crowell said the new proposal replicates the porch and front of the building, and the Eldredges have agreed to maintain as much of the design as possible, including the overhang on the existing roof. William Eldredge said they acknowledge the importance of streetscape. The commission had questions about the greater roof pitch in the latest proposal, suggesting the pitch should be softened. After discussions with builder Dale Nikula, an agreement was reached on the roof pitch.

Crowell requested that the commission vote to lift the demolition delay, with the understanding the new design plans would go before the commission at the June 8 meeting. The commission voted 5-1 to lift the demolition delay for the Eldredge project.