HARWICH — A compromise on the design for the proposed new convenience store and two apartments in Harwich Center has been reached between the historic district and historical commission and developer Saumil Patel that will make it more in keeping with the historic village.
Patel, the owner of the adjacent Main Street Market in Harwich Center, agreed to have more of the building fronting on the street, to place parking in the rear and add architectural elements more in keeping with the area.
Patel is planning to purchase the property, which houses a dilapidated gas station office on a 27,441-square-foot lot, to build a 4,000 square-foot convenience store and apartment building. Patel has three years left in his lease in the building to the east of the lot and is looking to relocate that business when his lease expires.
The property at 711 Main St. is owned by Elie and Rab Bassil, who have given Patel permission to seek the permits for the proposed structure. The initial step is to receive a certificate of appropriateness from the HD&HC. The project went before the commission last week.
Attorney Howard Cahoon, representing Patel, said Patel has lived in town for 10 years during which time he has operated the Main Street Market. Cahoon emphasized the proposed project would locate the mixed use structure perpendicular to the street and provide parking on the east side of the building. Noting the commission's desire for the building to front on Main Street, Cahoon stressed the design proposed was based on convenience to customers.
Placing a building with 100 feet facing Main Street “would be too massive and I don't think it would be pretty,” he said.
Cahoon said he understands the commission would like to have parking in the rear of the property, but he added one woman expressed safety concerns to him about that idea, noting her hesitation in going behind the building at night. Cahoon said when the police go by they would not be able to see what was going on in the back.
“This design is more convenient to the public,” Cahoon said.
But commission member Robert Doane said there are guidelines that state new construction should be like the structures that exist in the village, and most of them front on the street. Cahoon said many of those properties are a lot smaller.
Doane said the temptation is to put something there to replace the old gas station, but the historic district reflects back 100 years and that historic nature is the number one priority. Patel said the adjacent building in which they are operating does not front along the road.
While the commission's intent is to enhance walking through the village center, Cahoon said people don't walk there and the town has trouble getting people to come into the village.
“We don't see the tourists, it's our customers coming in,” Patel said of providing a parking scheme convenient to people driving up to the shop.
Commission member Jeanne Steiner said she looked at the Department of Interior's recommendations for convenient stores and it includes site placement, recommending such stores face the sidewalk to attract walk-in business.
Building design was also a concern. Commission member Gayle Carroll took exception with the amount of parking that would be visible from the street. “What you see is asphalt and a small portion of the building,” she said.
Commission member Robert Bradley, an abutter across Main Street who had recused himself from the hearing, said the issue he see is that the building is too bulky. He said there are no indentations to the structure and that could be corrected at a limited expense. Bradley, an architect, said the other thing that bothers him is exterior staircases. They have no historic relations to other buildings in the area, he said.
Doane said the other buildings in the village create a rhythm not expressed in the design.
Cahoon agreed to eliminate the exterior staircases because the older buildings did not have them. He also agreed the design had a boxy look, adding that it could be toned down a bit. After a recess, Cahoon said Patel has agreed to modify the plan, increasing the structure from 40 to 65 feet to provide more of a presence on Main Street. The project engineer, Halim Choubah, said he could alter roof lines and add jogs, provide an access and egress to the rear for parking, have some parking along the street and dress up the building so it is not so boxy.
“It's no problem, we're going to make a real front out there,” Cahoon said.
Patel wanted to be sure the commission was fine with the concept.
“I feel better about this,” Doane said.
“I like the idea of what's being proposed,” Steiner added.
Doane suggested the redesign drawings do not have to be detailed at this point, but provide enough information to show adjustments to address the commission's concerns. The commission continued the hearing to Wednesday, Aug. 15, when the new drawings are proposed to be presented.