HARWICH PORT– Faced with opposition from neighbors to a proposal to expand the Schoolhouse parking lot, town officials withdrew the request last week.
Town officials were before the planning board seeking a waiver to a site plan issued in 2002 for the parking lot and construction of the chamber of commerce building. Based on the opposition and planning board members' determination that a waiver wasn't the proper avenue for the changes the town was seeking, Town Administrator Christopher Clark withdrew the request and said the proposal will be revised and resubmitted as a new site plan.
Business growth in the village and the construction of a new mixed-use building on the site of a former parking along Route 28 has business owners and the chamber of commerce pushing for more public parking.
Clark referred to a letter to the board of selectmen from Chamber of Commerce President Michael Ulrich requesting the use of a tree lined grove to the rear of the Schoolhouse parking lot for additional parking. Clark said the selectmen were “very supportive” of the proposal and a waiver from the 2002 site plan was determined as the most expeditious approach to accomplishing the goal this summer.
A couple of years ago the town worked with T.D. Bank to expand parking by about 27 spaces on the bank’s property and provide access to that lot from Schoolhouse Road, Clark said. He also said the department of public works has added 17 new spaces in the existing lot by putting in place new striping.
But there have been letters of concern written by neighbors about the new proposal, Clark said. The plan calls for 20 feet of tree-lined buffer along Pleasant Street and 10 feet of buffer along the property on the east side of the expanded parking area, which would add about 36 spaces.
‘‘It doesn’t change the structure there, we have a parking lot and we’re looking to expand a parking lot,” Clark said.
Attorney David Reid, representing two Pleasant Street residents, Robert Cohn and Kristen Feriolo, took issue with changes being proposed under a site plan review waiver. He said waivers are appropriate when such requests do not substantially change the relationship of the site to its neighbors.
”It seems inconceivable that these changes could honestly be viewed as not substantially altering the relationship of the site to its abutters,” the attorney said.
Reid said it will increase the lot by 50 percent and add more traffic to Pleasant Street. He also cited the provision in the 2002 site plan that required the trees not be removed and for there to be 33 percent green space.
“You can’t waive this as an unsubstantial change,” Reid said. He also pointed out the new space designations added by the town this year are also not in compliance with the site plan approved by the board in 2002.
Planning board member Joseph McParland agreed with Reid, suggesting the board not act on the waiver until it gets an opinion from legal counsel. Other members of the board supported that position.
Fire Chief Norman Clarke said he supported the proposal because it would move vehicles off Pleasant Street during events such as Port Summer Nights. He said the department has access problems there.
“We’re suffering from our success,” Board of Selectmen Chair Julie Kavanagh said. “It becomes a safety issue if we can’t alleviate this situation this summer.”
“There’s not enough municipal parking, but we can’t do anything to address it with a waiver,” planning board member Mary Maslowski said.
“I live at 16-18 Pleasant Street and your parking lot is our front yard,” Elizabeth Lockhart. “Put more thought into this.”
“I would urge those in favor of this ill-advised proposal to consider modern and innovative approaches, rather than revert to the unimaginative, old-fashioned, environmentally insensitive solution of cutting down trees and paving a new parking lot,” Pleasant Street resident Doug Karlson said.
“I would suggest that with this parking lot, you are not solving a problem, you are merely transferring a problem. You are creating a major problem for the residents of Pleasant Street,”
Rosemary O’Neill said. She lives at the Anchorage, which abuts Schoolhouse Road, and she is astonished at the speed of cars turning in off Pleasant Street, then trying to park on the side of the road. O’Neill said she is grateful the town has posted no parking signs, but she also expressed concern for cutting down a quarter of an acre of trees, which provide important habitat for the birds.
“I’m here to keep Pleasant Street pleasant,” said Miles Street resident Bob Bench. He said with the expansion of parking more traffic will travel Pleasant Street. He also said the grove is a visual and sound buffer, and when it is removed all that commercial activity spills into Pleasant Street. He urged more creative thinking, suggesting tearing down the chamber building.
But Taylor Powell, who operates Perks Coffee Shop and Beer Garden in the center of the village, said he supported the proposal “110 percent.” He said people park in the entryway off Pleasant Street, adding there will be an accident there. He also said the business community is growing and more parking is necessary.
Peter Hurst said he has had a business in Harwich Port for 44 years and he is listening to the residents, but more parking is needed. He said the intention wasn’t to insult the residents, but to talk about solutions.
Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Cyndi Williams said she is an advocate for the businesses but also the residents of Pleasant Street. She said what the chamber is trying to do is positive, but she apologized for moving too quickly to alleviate conditions there.
Clark made the request to withdraw the town’s application for a waiver and told the board they would be back with an application for a site plan review.