HARWICH — The pet cemetery project was put to rest Tuesday after town meeting voters approved a petitioned article that took the 2.25 acre parcel out from under the jurisdiction of the cemetery commission and returned it to the board of selectmen for general municipal purposes.
The cemetery commission had a hard night, with voters also rejecting an article that would establish a revolving fund that would have allowed revenues from the sale of lots in the pet burial ground to be used in the maintenance, improvements and support of the facility.
A third article seeking $131,000 to provide funds to complete the construction of the pet cemetery and to reimburse the general fund $70,280 for funds already spent on improvements made to the site was also overwhelmingly defeated.
It took voters five and a half hours Tuesday to work through the 44 articles remaining on the annual warrant, approving, among others, measures seeking use of town-owned land for affordable housing and banning single-use plastic bottles by the town.
Tom Birch was the lead petitioner on the article seeking to return jurisdiction of the property to the board of selectmen. He said the project was never handled properly, calling it a “solution looking for a problem.” Birch argued the property in the town's industrial zone along Queen Anne Road is worth more than $1 million.
“They wanted to take this extremely value property and turn it into an expense,” Birch said of cemetery commission plans for the pet cemetery.
Cemetery Administrator Robbin Kelley said that there is the potential for 10,550 cremation lots with additional green space pathways, which could provide even more lots. She said lot sales could generate $1 million if sold to residents and as much as $2 million if sold to nonresidents.
Gary Conroy said a pet cemetery should be left to the private sector, not town government. Brian Paradee also took issue with the proposal, stating a financial analysis was never done and no business plan provided for the project. He said it would take 19 years for the burial ground to generate the $131,000 sought to complete the work and 138 years to generate $1 million.
While the petitioned article as approve allows the jurisdiction to be returned to selectmen, Town Counsel Amy Kwesell said before that can happen the cemetery commission must first vote to declare the parcel as surplus land.
Voters agreed to use $340,000 in Community Preservation Act funds for the Affordable Housing Trust to create and preserve affordable housing in town. The appropriation includes the use of $30,000 to fund a part-time housing coordinator position.
The trust was also looking for the approval of several parcels of land to develop affordable housing. Voters agreed to transfer land into the care and custody of the trust, but in the article identifying the parcels, the motion deleted the The Albro House property, a 1.38-acre parcel to the west side of town hall.
Real Estate and Open Space Committee member James Dovovan also put forth a motion restricting the use of a 17.35-acre parcel listed as 0 Depot Rd. The motion sought to put use limitations on a major portion of the parcel in areas where natural heritage and endangered species designations were in place and additional areas to the north side where vernal pools are located.
Donovan said there are a number of water supply wells and wildlife corridors in the area and while the committee supports affordable housing, their goal is to have clear language that will protect those resources while still allowing reasonable development. In the end, language was developed to allow calculations that restrict development of the land. Donovan said there is still seven acres that will allow for a good amount of housing there. Voters approved the motion and approved the article containing several additional parcels of town-owned land for use by the housing trust.
Several petitioned articles drew lengthy debate, and based on standing counts demonstrated a divided assembly on a number of issues. Voters approved an article banning the sale of single-use plastic bottles on town property with a provision exempting town departments involved in health and public safety operations.
Petitioner Patrick Otton said plastic is ubiquitous and persistent and does not bio-degrade. He spoke of the town's DPW paying $200 a ton to take it to a recycling plant, where it just sits there because there is no market for plastic.
“By 2050 there will be more plastic than codfish in the ocean and I might come back to change the name to Cape Plastic,” Otton said.
Selectman Ed McManus said he met with the proponents because of a concern with how the ban would impact vendors at the Harwich Cranberry Festival, which takes place on town property. He said instead paper and metal containers can be used, which would be cheaper than the plastic cups they have used to serve beer and wine at the festival.
There were some objections to the proposed bylaw. Leo Cakounes said town bylaws should not be filed by petition because they do not get the proper review. The board of selectmen voted against the proposal because it was not properly vetted, said Selectman Donald Howell. But voters approve the single-use plastic bottle ban 235-194.
Voters also approved a non-binding resolution authorizing selectmen to direct town law enforcement to refrain from using town funds and other resources to enforce federal immigration laws to the extent possible by law. Maria Rudden, an immigrant who came from the Philippines 40 years ago, said she was speaking on behalf of undocumented immigrant residents, especially those who were not at the meeting because they are afraid.
“Nothing in this article asks Harwich to violate U.S. law,” she said. “It does not ask for withholding information from federal authorities. If ICE requests that someone be held in detention and includes a proper judicial warrant, the town will comply. What this resolution reaffirms is that our town does not use the people or resources to function as ICE. This respects the separation of powers specified in the 10th Amendment.”
Voters defeated an article seeking a resolution to support changes in the state flag and seal of Massachusetts 191-213 vote and also rejected a charter amendment that would have changed the name of the “Selectmen” to “Select Board.”