HARWICH — The topic of the town upgrading two roads in the Six Pond District drew a crowd to Monday night's board of selectmen meeting. Residents in the Round Cove and Seth Whitefield/Hawksnest Road area of East Harwich spoke firmly against making road improvements there, and selectmen backed them up, rejecting spending town money on the work.
The improvements requested by Robert Fratus, Jr. also drew a petition from about 70 people who said it would ruin the area's character and fragile ecosystem.
“Further road widening and surfacing with T-base will transform those roads into a throughway for increased traffic by serving as a shortcut to avoid the Route 137 and Route 39 intersection and the rotary,” read the petition. “This scenario would also impact negatively on Hawksnest's pond and woodlands fragile ecosystem. We appreciate and wish to preserve this area as it is, because of its peaceful, quiet and country-like atmosphere. We request elected officials deny Mr. Fratus’ efforts to further 'improve' these roads.”
Selectmen had a lengthy discussion with Fratus about his proposal to have the town provide a crushed gravel base for the road and have the department of public works improve unpaved sections. He has argued Massachusetts General Law obligates the town to cover the cost of the repairs, but town officials say he has an agreement requiring that he pay for improvements. Fratus said Monday night he is asking the town to put a base on a small portion of Hawksnest Road and to widen Round Cove Road.
Elizabeth Dubuque, Fratus' wife, said they have sold one lot and they are going to build a house there. She pointed out minimum lot size is 100,000 square feet, which would allow a seven- to eight-bedroom house, but they are looking at a three-bedroom house.
She said her concern relates to public safety response time if there is a drowning at Hawksnest Pond. Dubuque said it takes five minutes to respond from the East Harwich fire station because of the condition of Round Cove Road. It takes two minutes longer going around to Hawksnest Road. Dubuque also named three residents living there who support the road improvements.
“I don't want my taxes supporting a road project to benefit a developer. It would open up a throughway. It would be a short cut, a bypass to Queen Anne Road and it would disturb the country character and woodlands,” Nadine Anzaldi said. “It would impact negatively on the environment. The ecosystem can't tolerate that kind of impact.”
Margo Fenn said she has been walking the area for 30 years and runs into people riding horses, fishing and swimming. It is one of the few wild areas left in town, she said. Fenn, former executive director of the Cape Cod Commission, said the town's decision to pursue the Six Ponds District of Critical Planning Concern shows the importance of the land.
“Hawksnest Road runs through the center. It's crazy to encourage more traffic through there,” Fenn said. “There is no benefit to widening that road.”
Former State Senator Dan Wolf said he just moved to Nathan Walker Road a few weeks ago from North Harwich. Wolf said he has been using the roads for 40 years and expressed concern that “the quiet enjoyment of the jewel of Harwich will be impacted.” He said a developer is asking the town to pay for the impacts of his development. He added that GPS will reroute vehicles down Round Cove Road and through the woods when there is heavy traffic at the Routes 137 and 39 intersection. Several residents along the roads also expressed concern for increased traffic.
Sandy McLardy said he spent a lot of time in Nickerson State Park growing up, and that was his way of connecting with nature. McLardy said he has five kids and feels Hawksnest State Park is a true treasure he wants his kids to enjoy and connect with nature.
While one woman said conditions make it difficult for public safety vehicles to move through the area, Fire Chief Norman Clark, Jr. told a different story.
“We can get in and out of there just the way it is,” said Clarke. “If we have an area we can't traverse, we call the DPW and they'll fix that pot hole. We have access and we'll continue to get in there.”
Dubuque said the planning board required the road widening for the subdivision. Board of Selectmen Chair Julie Kavanagh said there is a license agreement in place that requires Fratus to pay for upgrades.
“I was required to widen the road for safety,” Fratus responded. “I could have saved thousands of dollars.”
Selectman Larry Ballantine said base material is not free and neither is the DPW's time. The license agreement Fratus has with the town states improvements will be made at Fratus' expense with no financial obligation to the town, he said.
“I think we've had the questions answered relating to financial concerns and the neighbors' concerns,” Ballantine said.
Selectman Michael MacAskill said he'd like to get a legal opinion on whether this is a road that the town has to maintain.
“It's a passable road in my mind,” Selectman Ed McManus responded.
“Fratus has money at risk, put your money in play,” Selectman Donald Howell said. “You did not honor your license agreement.”
Howell put forward the motion to deny the request for the town to do the work, which was unanimously approved.