Harwich Center Initiative Group Goes On Hiatus

By: William F. Galvin

Topics: Historic preservation , Economic development

Harwich Center.  FILE PHOTO

HARWICH — The Harwich Center initiative committee will be taking a hiatus until next fall.

The decision was made at a session at the end of February in which some committee members expressed both frustration with the process and a sense that other town committees are conducting parallel examinations of the same issues.

Harwich Center resident Peter Antonellis asked if the committee was working in cooperation with other groups studying Harwich Center issues, such as the historic district and historical commission review of the convenience store apartment complex proposal at the former gas station at 711 Main St. He added that grants are being sought to improve sidewalks from the community center to the cultural center. HCIC Chairman Dan Wolf pointed out other initiatives involving Harwich Center, such as a cultural district designation and a planned Cape Cod Commission traffic study. Vehicular, pedestrian and bicycle movements received a significant amount of discussion in the stakeholders session, he added, and Town Planner Charleen Greenhalgh said the bikeways committee, accessibility rights committee and the planning board's local comprehensive plan review will examine those issues.

Resident Tom Evans wanted to know who would be working on the Brett Way right-of-way issue. The private road that extends from Main Street to Parallel Street is an integral component to village planning, perhaps providing additional parking, he said. Greenhalgh said that is the type of recommendation the group should make to selectmen.

Evans questioned whether the initiative group was out of the gate too soon. Greenhalgh said the local comprehensive plan study will examine each of the villages, including Harwich Center. It will be a town-wide formal process that will involve the planning board, conservation commission, historic district and historical commission, and departments like the department of public works.

“It's going to be a large group,” Greenhalgh said of those participating in the LCP.

“Is this group a synthesizer and a convener and bringing together all of these initiatives or another initiative that is becoming a system complicator?” Wolf asked. “What is the next step of the committee?”

Member Paul Doane, who, along with member Greg Winston, was out of town and participating remotely, said he thought the committee has a legitimate role in a few key elements of the planning process, such as economic development, assisting in identifying businesses and locating potential investors in the village.

“Without it efforts will fall short of the mark,” Doane said. “There is no other entity to find economic stimulus.”

Doane also said the committee was in a position where it would not be tied down with political implications and suggested that working with private property owners along Brett Way on a right-of-way taking would be a good project for it. Working on a small wastewater treatment plant in the village was another good project for the group, he said.

Committee member Ginny Hewitt pointed out the HD&HC has appointed a subcommittee to work on a number of issues in the historic district – such as gateways, parking and signage – not specifically related to development in Harwich Center.

“Maybe we should take a break. Our charge seems to be pretty big and not so clearly defined,” Hewitt said.

The charge includes stimulating economic vitality in the village and improving the area visually and functionally, with the goal of creating a walkable, sustainable, vibrant, cohesive village. Housing possibilities ranging from workforce to market rate to help increase the variety of dwelling units was also to be explored. A lot of this should be done through town committees, Hewitt said.

Planning board member Craig Chadwick agreed the scope of the charge is huge and suggested the committee put a spreadsheet together listing the 20 to 25 items discussed in a recent meeting with stakeholders and identify what group is responsible to do the work. Items in need of town meeting action as well as short- and long-term goals should be identified, he said.

A matrix will be developed for the LCP, including who the movers and shakers are, said Greenhalgh.

Wolf said he was uncomfortable with the process and has concerns about the state Open Meeting Law and ethics issues. He said as a formal member of a town committee he has concerns about meeting with individuals over economic development. As chairman his responsibility is being “a facilitator” who is charged with taking comments from the public and committee members and trying to get somewhere with those ideas.

“I'm in an impossible position,” Wolf said. “Our mandate is so broad and already there is someone in the democratic town government looking at it. We seem like an ad hoc group of a lot of individuals with a lot of ideas, but we don't have the authority to act on them.”

Hewitt suggested the committee might need to take a hiatus, allowing time for some of the other initiatives underway, such as the town’s local comprehensive plan and the Cape Cod Commission’s traffic study, to produce results. She offered a motion to have the committee reconvene in the fall.

“We're tasked with coming up with ideas, making an effort, not going back under a rock for four, five or six months without addressing any initiatives or ideas,” Doane said. “I think this is misplaced. We're tasked with trying to stimulate investment and provide ideas. I'm strongly opposed to packing up our tent like we've been working too hard. We don't need six months off. “

“I'm going to point out with a relatively high level of frustration we have four people here in the wintertime at a meeting in this room and two people a long way away,” Wolf said.

Wolf call for the vote on Hewitt's motion to take a hiatus and reconvene in the fall. The members in the meeting room – DPW Director Lincoln Hooper, Lane Meehan, Hewitt and Wolf – supported the motion. Winston remotely cast a vote in opposition and upon repeated requests for a vote from Doane, there was no answer. The motion was approved 4-1.

Wolf said he would report the action to selectmen.