HARWICH — As the summer season approaches, business owners in Harwich Port are becoming concerned about the availability of parking. Although parking has always been an issue in the village, some people see conditions being further exacerbated by recent development.
Efforts are underway to identify additional parking. Relining of one parking area created more than a dozen new spots, and vacant land behind the Schoolhouse Road parking area could be developed into as many as 50 new spaces.
“Our ongoing efforts to market and drive business to Harwich has been paying off. With this increased business and activity comes the need to provide for parking needs of our local businesses, residents, visitors. With the new Harwich Port Commons building and successful business downtown Harwich Port is in desperate need of additional parking,” Chamber of Commerce President Michael Ulrich stated in a letter to selectmen two weeks ago.
Ulrich put forth what he termed “a viable cost effective idea,” suggesting the wooded lot at the north side of the Schoolhouse Road municipal parking lot in which the chamber office is located be used to create as many as 40 to 50 more parking spaces. He said a buffer of trees could be provided for homes along Pleasant Street.
“We must address this issue before the busy season starts,” Ulrich said.
The parking conditions in the village have been an issue for some time, but there are concerns that the new Harwich Port Commons building is filling in a parking lot that was often used by visiting business patrons, and could exacerbate the problem.
“A lot of people thought that was public parking,” Town Planner Charleen Greenhalgh said of the former street-front lot where the new building is now being constructed. “ It was not. It's private property and private parking.”
The project went through extensive site plan review by the planning board and in-depth parking review with the abutting property owners and commercial businesses which have parking easements there. Agreements were reached and parking was provided in the lot that will be in the rear of the building.
As for use of the wooded lot to the rear of the municipal parking lot in the village, Greenhalgh said that would require site plan review or a site plan waiver by the planning board. She was directed, based on the Ulrich letter, to research the history of the lot.
In 2002, the chamber of commerce received a site plan review approval from the planning board for the current chamber building. As part of the approval, the board prohibited the removal of trees and required 33 percent green space. In a recommendation to Town Administrator Christopher Clark, Greenhalgh suggested that there be a 20-foot buffer from Pleasant Street, a five-foot buffer from the existing drive and a 10-foot buffer from the property to be east. She estimated the land could then accommodate 36 more spaces.
“I get there are concerns about parking in Harwich Port,” Clark said. “Harwich Port Commons hasn't gone as quickly as thought.”
The town recognizes the problem and has been working over the past couple of years to increase public parking in the village, Clark told The Chronicle this week. The town has re-lined the municipal lot located adjacent to the chamber of commerce office, adding at least 17 more parking spaces.
The town has also struck a deal in the past two years with TD Bank to develop a parcel of land the bank owns to add another 23 spaces, which can be entered from the west side of the municipal lot. The town expended $30,000 as part of the license agreement to make improvements and provide the access from the municipal lot to the bank owned property, Clark said.
“Once the planning board gives the green light, we hope to have something done this summer there,” Clark told selectmen Monday night.
Board of Selectman Chairman Michael MacAskill said he has had several calls about the parking needs. The village is drawing a lot of business, he said. Greenhalgh said she will examine other town land to see if there is another location near the village where parking could be located.
Clark town planner Aly Sabatino had discussions with Dennis Miller, who owns the vacant lot across from Cumberland Farms. Clark said they tried to get him to approach the planning board. Greenhalgh said a site plan review or waiver from the planning board would be required to use that lot for parking. She said she spoke to Miller this spring but he did not get back to her.
Clark said Miller tried to encourage the town to lease the land from him for parking, but nothing further came of the effort.
Municipal parking spaces can be full by 9:30 a.m., said Dr. Gravity's Kite Shop owner Peter Hurst. Beachgoers who do not want to spend the money for a beach sticker park there, tying up spaces for much of the day.
“The town absolutely knew there was going to be a problem,” Hurst said of parking this summer in the village. “The job of the town planner is to find a solution. That solution was a half a block down the street.”
He said the town has a fiduciary responsibility to resolve the parking hardship in Harwich Port.
Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Cyndi Williams said this week use of the municipal lot for beach parking is not encouraged, and people will not be told by chamber staff they can park there and go to the beach. She also said the chamber will encourage businesses, if they don't have parking for employees, to have them use the back parking in the municipal lot or the side lot provided by TD Bank.