CHATHAM – After the automobile began to dominate the Cape's burgeoning tourist industry in the 1930s and '40s, small collections of cabins – referred to as cottage colonies – began to spring up throughout the region. Many were located on ponds or near the ocean, often away from business and other resort centers.
The camps were mostly small and affordable for families with few of the amenities that vacationers expect today. They've mostly disappeared; under the “Cottages” category, the 1999 Chatham Chamber of Commerce booklet lists 21 properties, ranging from one or two units to dozens. This year's booklet has four listings under “Cottages, Condos and House Rentals.” The largest remaining is Pilgrim Village on White Pond in West Chatham, with some 30 cottages. Most of the rest have been sold for private development.
One of the last large cottage colony parcels remaining intact is also going that route.
Town boards are currently reviewing a proposed subdivision of a 7.1-acre parcel at 288 Barn Hill Rd., formerly operated as Hunter's Pine Acres. There are currently 13 structures on the property, including 12 cottages and one single-family home.
Eastward Companies is proposing to subdivide the property into 14 20,000-square-foot residential lots, all of which will comply with the R20 district zoning. All of the structures will be demolished, which sent the project to the historical commission, since some of the cottages exceed the 75-year cutoff that triggers commission review.
Even though a few of the cottages were built as early as 1936 – seven are 75 years or older – the commission ruled last week that they were not historically significant and did not invoke the town's demolition delay bylaw, under which it could have imposed a 18-month delay on the project.
Commissioners did believe that as an area, the former cottage colony might have been determined to be historically significant because of its role in the development of the town's tourist industry.
“It's a neat old property,” said commissioner Tim Smith. “It's a shame to lose a cute little cottage colony.”
Jane Moffett agreed. “It's really typical of what was built in the '30s,” she said. “As a group I see it as significant.”
But as an historic area, the colony gets a low priority, said Chairman Frank Messina. The commission is currently involved in developing two potential National Register Historic Districts, in South Chatham and the Stage Harbor Road area.
“We're not in the business of attempting to make the whole town of Chatham into a National Register District,” he said, adding that the loss of cottage colonies, however, is a “significant problem that Chatham has to deal with.”
Commissioners suggested that in lieu of a demolition delay, Eastward advertise the availability of the cottages to be moved and also offer them to the town's affordable housing committee for possible relocation as affordable housing. Attorney William Riley said there is time to investigate those options, but the cottages are in poor condition and of little or no value. They have not been used or maintained for seven or eight years, do not meet any current building codes and might not even be capable of being moved.
“At best they're just a shell,” he said.
The vote not to invoke the demolition delay was 6-1, with Moffett dissenting.
In order to comply with the zoning bylaw's requirement that projects of 10 or more units include an affordable housing component, Eastward offered to contribute $203,000 to the town's affordable housing trust fund. Planning board members did not think that was enough, however. A higher amount would “be something I would think would be in the public interest,” said Chairman Peter Cocolis. He asked owner William Marsh to return to the board with a higher figure, more than the $203,000 minimum.
Eastward also asked the planning board to waive a regulation that limits the number of lots on a cul-de-sac to 12. Marsh said they had looked at the option of expanding what is currently on the site under a condominium form of ownership – which would not have triggered either the affordable housing requirement or cul-de-sac limitation – but opted instead to go with a conventional subdivision.
Under questioning from board member DeeDee Holt, Marsh said he had “absolutely no intention” of clear-cutting the wooded property.
“Our goal is to created an attractive subdivision,” he said. “We believe leaving as many trees as we can leave is more attractive than denuding an entire site and planting a bunch of little tiny trees.” Trees will be cleared for a road and around building sites on the 14 lots, but it will be up to the people who buy each lot whether to retain or remove trees, he said.
Eastward must now file for final site plan review.