HARWICH — A resident of Hawksnest Road in the Six Ponds District of East Harwich is seeking to have the town make improvements to that road and Round Cove Road, which lead into the Hawksnest Pond and Hawksnest State Park.
Area residents, however, objected to the request, saying the proposal would increase traffic and open up more land for development.
Robert D. Fratus, Jr. has made some improvements to Hawksnest Road, also known as Seth Whitefield Road, under a licensed agreement with the town approved in 2017 allowing the unpaved nine-foot-wide public way to be improved to an 18-foot-wide gravel road up to the Fratus property.
According to the agreement, the improvements were to be constructed at Fratus' expense, with no obligation by the town to contribute toward the improvements.
In a letter to selectmen, Fratus requested that the town install a layer of T-base – ground up asphalt – to provide additional improvements to Hawksnest Road. In a separate letter, he also asked selectmen to make improvements to the unpaved section of Round Cove Road.
“The pavement ends after the last house on the road. The remainder, between the pavement and Hawksnest Road, is in severe and almost impassable condition. It is a town road and should be maintained to be at least passable by a regular car,” he wrote about Round Cove Road. “As it is now, the holes in the road are the size of small cars. Sooner or later, someone is going to rupture a gas tank. Every winter people get stuck in those holes and have to be towed out.”
Hawksnest Park is one of the town's attractions and it should be kept accessible and safe, Fratus wrote. He expressed concerns for emergency vehicles accessing the park and pond area, noting there were two large fires there over the past few years.
Fratus suggested the town could use T-base material excavated from roads were gas lines were installed over the past year to improve the roadways.
Last week selectmen raised the issue of the cost of the road repairs Fratus is requesting. DPW Director Lincoln Hooper said the excavated pavement is stored at the DPW and a company is hired to mix it with sand to create T-base. He said it costs the town $6 a ton, but he added that over the past couple of years the town has not had a stockpile of T-base and has been buying it at $17 a ton.
Hooper told selectmen the town has eight gravel road and 12 parking lots surfaced with T-base and there is a priority list for repairs. Hawksnest and Round Cove roads are not on the list, he said.
Selectman Donald Howell said license agreement with Fratus obligates him to cover cost of repairs.
“My big concern is given the economic condition of the town, and this is not on the priority list, are we going to pave every path in town?” Howell said. Fratus clears titles of properties and makes money selling them, he added, and road expenses should be built into the cost. Howell said it is unreasonable for the town to subsidize the developer.
Fratus said state law requires highways and town roads to be maintained by the town at its expense. The town is liable for the repairs, he said.
“Town roads, town bylaws; it's not unreasonable for the town to follow its own rules,” Fratus said.
Traffic Safety Committee Chairman Gerry Beltis said he applauds Fratus for getting properties back on the tax rolls, but added it would set a bad precedent to help him fund road repairs.
Selectman Michael MacAskill said the roads leading into the state forest are used by a lot of people, including the police and fire departments.
“This isn't about helping Mr. Fratus and helping the developer, it's about opening up a road a lot of people use,” MacAskill said. “The town already grades that road, only half of it. The town plows that road, only half of it. It isn't about funding a road for the developer.”
Round Cove Road resident Cathy Karras said she lived on the street for 30 years before the road was paved to the last house. Now people drive fast. Additional improvements will bring more traffic traveling at faster speeds, she said.
Ian Hoffman-Terry, who also lives on Round Cove Road, said the selectmen's agenda was not clear on the topic and what was being proposed. If the abutters knew what the meeting was about there would be a lot more of them here expressing concerns, he said.
Chris Nickerson, DPW supervisor of roads, said Fratus is looking for access for buildable lots on Hawksnest Road. But the building department said the proper access to those lots has not been provided.
“Fratus improved the first section of Hawksnest Road. We inspected it and it passed. We took it over. If he follows through with the T-base and it's acceptable, we'll follow the same process. We'll add it to our maintenance list,” Hooper said.
Cannon Hill Resident James Joyce wanted to know who will pay for the improvements. Hooper said the cost to the town would be in his department's labor with the addition of the streets to the town's maintenance list. Joyce said Round Cove Road is a quiet, well shaded, rural road and that is one of the reasons he lives back there.
“If the idea is to make it a main thoroughfare, it should be brought before town meeting,” Joyce said.
There were also concerns expressed that improvements to the roads would provide a route for traffic seeking to avoid the intersection at Routes 137 and 39.
“This is being piecemealed and the town is being taken for a ride. Do it through the planning board instead of being piecemealed by the board of selectmen,” Beltis said.
Fire Chief Norman Clarke, Jr., said roads like these drive the need for the special purpose fire truck they are seeking in town meeting. But he added if rescue vehicles can't access the roads they call the DPW and they fill in those holes.
Board of Selectmen Chair Julie Kavanagh was concerned about the lack of public input and the confusion over the way the topic was listed on the agenda. There is a need for public conversation, she said, recommending a public hearing be convened. The board agreed. The hearing has not yet been scheduled.