HARWICH — The town will not be moving forward with developing additional parking at the Schoolhouse parking lot this summer, but town officials are considering a number of short and long-term approaches to address parking in Harwich Port.
Those include encouraging people to park in satellite parking lots such as the former fire station on Bank Street and the cultural center on Sisson Road – with possible shuttle bus service to Harwich Port – as well as using Bank Street Beach for evening parking.
Selectmen agreed there was a need to develop a parking study task force to further examine the parking, and possibilities that could help mitigate the problems facing the town.
On Monday night, residents living near the Schoolhouse parking lot and residents along Bank Street appeared before selectmen to continue pushing for creative parking solutions. With “considerable opposition” to removing a grove of trees to add parking at the Schoolhouse Road lot, Pleasant Street resident Robert Cohn commended the town for considering other options first.
Two weeks ago Town Administrator Christopher Clark pulled a proposal placed before the planning board seeking a waiver to a site plan special permit issued in 2002 to alter a section of the Schoolhouse parking lot configuration to remove trees and add 36 parking spaces.
The project was challenged by a number of neighbors, and an attorney representing two of the neighbors called into question the right of the board to allow such a substantial change to the permit through a waiver. In the end, Clark withdrew the waiver request, but said he would be back with a site plan review application this summer.
Clark said on Friday there is not enough time this summer to redesign the plan for the parking lot and seek the permit necessary for additional parking space. Clark said he has been discussing parking alternatives with the neighbors.
The business community has been calling for more parking in Harwich Port to accommodate the growing businesses in the village and to compensate for the loss of some spaces to private development.
“We need to find ways of using our [existing] parking lots,” Clark said this week, referring to the potential to use the Bank Street Beach parking lot at night to relieve pressure on the village center. On Monday night selectmen discussed the potential for using shuttle buses and establishing satellite parking locations, including the former fire station on Bank Street, potentially town hall at night, the Harwich Cultural Center and night parking at Bank Street Beach.
Clark pointed out the former fire station is a half mile from the Schoolhouse parking lot and Bank Street Beach. There was mention of utilizing the former fire station lot as overflow for Bank Street Beach parking as well.
People could park at the fire station location and either walk to Bank Street Beach or take a shuttle.
Carla Burke lives across the street from the old fire station and said there is no sidewalk on either side of the street, just a wide shoulder across from the station with no crosswalk. “It's a hazard,” she said. She also said additional parking in the residential area would increase traffic. She urged selectmen to use the cultural center parking, suggesting the activity would bring more people into the center.
“This is a commercial problem, solve it in a commercial area,” another Bank Street resident said.
Bank Street resident Robert Piantedosi questioned the use of the old fire station lot for additional parking for Bank Street Beach, citing already overcrowded conditions at the beach. There was also discussion about the necessity of a shuttle bus. Selectmen made it clear the town would be unable to put such a bus in service this year.
Selectman Donald Howell said use of the Schoolhouse parking lot has economic benefits to the local businesses and should not be used for beachgoers to park all day. That's an issue in need of addressing, he said.
Richard Waystack said a big part of the parking problem in Harwich Port is the employees, many of whom use the Schoolhouse lot. He recommended employees use the old fire station on Bank Street.
Rosemary O'Neill said the town could allow short-term parking at the Schoolhouse lot and make it much more expensive for a longer time line, suggesting this would drive those people to an auxiliary lot.
“We like Harwich Port the way it is,” Pleasant Street resident Donna Hanson said. “People there don't need to double the size of their businesses.”
There was a lot of discussion about the need to identify parking opportunities available in and around the village, including encouraging evening parking at Bank Street Beach parking lot. Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Cyndi Williams said part of a recently received cultural districts grant includes providing maps that will identify different parking options available in town.
Clark said Saquatucket Harbor could also provide additional parking. The town has developed a stone surface parking facility along Route 28 at the harbor and there is additional space available at night for parking. Because there are no sidewalks along Route 28, however, he said there are safety issues with using the Saquatucket lot at night.
Town meeting approved $250,000 in May to construct a sidewalk 3,300 feet from Saquatucket Harbor to Harwich Port. Clark said that would have been the cost under local standards to do the work, but Route 28 is a state highway and the cost estimate provided by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation is in the $650,000 range. Mass DOT has started doing the engineering work, but funding is a major issue.
Clark said the public needs to help the town by reaching out to MassDOT and the Governor's Office. He said $11 million has been invested in making improvements on the water and land side of Saquatucket Harbor, and the sidewalk is necessary to connect the village and the harbor.
“The town is on the one-yard line and a sidewalk would put us in the end zone,” he said.
“It will create additional vibrancy,” Clark added. “It's a win/win to open up the nighttime parking at Saquatucket Harbor and have people walk into Harwich Port for dinner. We're hoping to have MassDOT work more constructively with us to see it through to fruition.”
The town will be filing a Mass Works grant application this fall seeking additional funding for the sidewalk project, he said. The state grant is designed to provide funds for public works projects that will enhance economic development.
Sidewalks could create a two-way flow, with people walking from the village to the new tourist-friendly harbor, passing restaurants and other businesses along the corridor. Route 28 is dangerous now, but in the bigger picture, development of the sidewalk provides an opportunity to promote healthy living, getting people to walk more and enjoying the views of both Wychmere and Saquatucket harbors, Clark said.
“Once you create a safe corridor people will walk,” he said. “I don't think the Mass Works programs have funded a lot of projects on the Cape, but Cape Cod is a tourist engine and this would make it more attractive. The vibrancy would be a benefit for the long term for our community.”