HARWICH — Whether it’s a quick sandwich or a sit-down meal, the renovated Saquatucket Harbor waterfront will likely offer visitors some kind of dining option.
In a prolonged discussion at Monday’s board of selectmen’s meeting, the debate continued about whether a snack shack should be included in the plans, or a 60-to-100-seat restaurant, or whether voters should be given the chance to opt out of either choice.
Harbormaster John Rendon presented the board with the latest iteration of the landside plan, which includes the snack shack. A small building designed to serve hot or cold food through two serving windows, the shack was eliminated from the building contract in order to keep the project under its original $3 million appropriation. But with the town now poised to accept a $1 million state Seaport Economic Council grant, town officials added back the snack shack, which was part of the plan originally approved by voters last year.
“I just think we have a great opportunity here to get this thing done,” the harbormaster said.
To keep the project under budget, officials removed several items from the contract, including the $385,426 snack shack, $100,000 in additional parking and around $50,000 for an expanded septic system. Part of the boardwalk linking the charter boat ticket office with the waterfront was also eliminated and replaced by a gravel walkway. Town officials are hoping to restore most of those components to the project.
Rendon said he came to the board for assurance that they still support the full project, including the snack shack, before he attends next Tuesday’s Seaport Council meeting to accept the grant.
But Selectmen Chairman Michael MacAskill said voters authorized $3 million in borrowing for the project with the understanding that any grants received after the fact – like the $1 million Seaport grant – would offset that borrowing authorization. MacAskill argued that town meeting originally authorized $3 million, “not $3 million plus grants.” Town meeting should decide whether to move ahead with the snack shack or use the $1 million grant to reduce the town’s borrowing authorization for the core project.
Other board members remained divided on how to proceed. Jannell Brown said she believes the grant should offset the $3 million cost, and she said she continues to favor a full restaurant on the site, rather than the snack shack. Julie Kavanagh said the snack shack was part of the original plan approved by voters and reducing the scope of the project might jeopardize the grant.
“I want to make sure we don’t endanger that in any way, shape or form,” she said.
Town Administrator Christopher Clark said he consulted with MacAskill Tuesday and favors including two articles on the upcoming annual town meeting warrant. The first would authorize the town to spend up to $4 million on the project, accounting for the original $3 million and the $1 million grant. This article would allow the town to decide, based on the actual costs of the necessary work, whether to fund a snack shack right away or at some point in the future.
A second article would authorize the town to issue a 40-year lease for construction of either a snack shack or a full restaurant, by private means. The town would then issue a request for proposals from would-be restaurateurs.
“That way, we could have authorization to build a snack shack in the construction article, and then do the RFP,” Clark said Tuesday. If the town receives viable proposals, either a restaurant or a snack shack will be built with private money and the town won’t need to use all of the funds it authorized. If no acceptable proposals are received, the town could still build the snack shack on its own.
“One way or another, we guarantee that something will be built there,” Clark said.
There has been some interest in a full restaurant at the harbor, including some from South Harwich resident Dan McLaughlin.
“It seems the town might be defaulting to the snack bar concept,” he said. As a restaurateur, he would like to submit a proposal to build a restaurant at his own expense and make lease payments to the town. At the end of the lease, the building would revert to town ownership. All told, he said, the town would receive $4 million in benefits from such an arrangement, “for zero investment.” He urged the town to issue a request for proposals before choosing a course of action.
Town officials have raised concerns that a full restaurant at the harbor might overwhelm the number of available parking spaces.
“Regardless of the medical facility going in across the street, we already have a parking situation that is very tight,” Clark said Tuesday. Even with the new parking spaces going in on the former Downey property, a restaurant would have a large impact on parking, while a snack shack would not, he said. “I think it’s going to be tight.”