HARWICH — A proposal to change the harbor management plan to allow the sale of beer and wine at the Dockside Seafood Shack at Saquatucket Harbor drew a storm of protest in the public hearing before selectmen last week.
On a split vote, selectmen agreed to make the change to accommodate the beer and wine license at the snack shack.
Harbormaster John Rendon said the amendment was being made to address the provision in the plan that prohibits the use of alcoholic beverages at town landings, floats, piers and parking lots under the town’s jurisdiction.
“The change reflects the new facility providing food and beverage services,” Rendon told selectmen, adding the waterways committee voted unanimously to support the amendment. The amendment states, “With the exception of the snack shack lease provisions and alcohol license issued by the board of selectmen, the sale and use of alcoholic beverages is prohibited on any landing, float, pier, building or parking area owned by or under the jurisdiction of the town.”
“I’m so opposed to it and appalled it has gotten this far,” Mary Anderson said. “The board of selectmen talked snack shack. That’s a full restaurant with 70 seats.”
Anderson said parking at the harbor will be a disaster. She said people will linger there, not having just one beer and tying up parking spaces. She also took issue with the menu, saying there was nothing that can be purchased and taken on the boat to eat while on the water, such as cold sandwiches.
Selectman Larry Ballantine, acting as board chairman, pointed out selectmen approved the license in April and town meeting voted to allow the harbor project to move forward. A lot of thought went into the menu, and it was included in the lease agreement, he added.
Former selectman Julie Kavanagh said she had a beer at the Dockside and she felt it was indeed a snack shack where people can grab a beer, sandwich or hot dog and sit. People can also just bring their own lunch and sit there. There is a limited location where alcohol can be served, she said. The change in the regulation makes it “neat and tidy.” She said the selectmen can issue alcoholic licenses for town properties, citing Cranberry Valley Golf Course, Harwich Cultural Center and the community center for Harwich Cranberry Festival events.
Clark said restaurant operator Joseph Griffiths applied for 80 seats, but the board of health approved 50 seats, which is tied to the septic system use. Griffiths has agreed to 50 seats, Clark said, but there are other seats there for public use.
“The whole intent of the boardwalk was a place where people could sit and enjoy the harbor,” Rendon said.
“How can you vote on something that’s against the law and then change it to make it legal?” Tom Sherry inquired. “It needed to be changed before you violated it. These things are done backwards and it’s not the first one in town done backwards.”
Town Administrator Christopher Clark said the regulation had inadvertently not been updated.
Rendon said the harbor management plan was a working document and when issues come up, changes are made as needed.
Sonny Hall said she has a boat in the harbor and was nervous about getting a parking place over Memorial Day weekend, but she was able to get a spot. The facility, she added, is “great for Harwich.” Hall said she wanted a quick snack and got a cold lobster salad and key lime pie and enjoyed it while out boating. Through her business she brings tourists here and she overheard people at the shack talking about how great a place it is and that they would be interested in coming back on vacation.
Peggy Gabour raised the issue of the number of seats. She said at the planning board meeting it was indicated that there would be four tables, and now there are 80 seats.
Clark said he and the harbormaster had a discussion with the architect and there was agreement the general public would be using seats there as well as customers. Officials will be going back to the planning board for site plan revisions, he added.
“It is not unusual for a final as-built plan to be tweaked,” Kavanagh said. “The planning board is well used to such changes, it’s not out of the ordinary.”
Selectman Donald Howell said the town issued a contract with a bigger seating capacity than was stated in the RFP. “Nobody but this guy knew he was going to get more seats,” he said, adding there was no certificate of occupancy, or a temporary one, challenging why the eatery was allowed to open.
“We’re backing into a project once again,” Howell said. “I’m embarrassed.”
“I’m certainly not embarrassed by the project,” newly elect Selectman Stephen Ford said. “The process has been crazy, a lot of twists and turns, and it has caused concern to some people. But we have a tremendous establishment.” He said he understands there are concerns but the town needs to move forward. “Let's resolve it and try in the future to create a better process for a lot of what we do.”
“I’m not voting for it,” Selectman Michael MacAskill said. “One reason is we don’t even know what the vote is. How are we going to vote on something with a lease when there have been changes in the lease? The plan is different. The table layout is different. It’s completely different, not the same. Voting it down tonight doesn’t kick him out tomorrow.”
When Ballantine called for a vote on the harbor management plan amendment, the new provision passed on a 3-2 vote with Howell and MacAskill dissenting. Howell then pointed out the beer and wine license is for 80 seats.
He asked if the board was also going to amend the license, but there was no response.