HARWICH — There was more of a congenial atmosphere last week than previously in the planning board session with the proposed developers of a retail store proposed on Route 28 in West Harwich, even as the board contemplated sending the project to the Cape Cod Commission as a limited discretionary referral.
Harwich Retail LLC is proposing to build a 7,489-square-foot store on property at 48 and 52 Route 28; the nature of the retail business has yet to be revealed. One of the two properties holds the historic, though in disrepair, Captain George Winchell Baker House built circa 1878. There is interest in the neighborhood in preserving the structure as residents work to create a West Harwich Captains’ Row Historic District.
The town’s historic district and historical commission has placed a demolition delay on the structure which runs through September. Harwich Retail LLC has been pursuing permitting for the retail store for several months. The project needs a site plan review special permit and a use special permit.
Over several sessions the board looked at traffic considerations and listened to neighbor concerns about losing a historic asset. In its previous session the board began looking into sending the project to the Cape Cod Commission as a limited discretionary referral.
Town Planner Charleen Greenhalgh said the project proponents are trying to work with the neighbors or the town to create a way to save the historic structure. Chad Brubaker, representing the proposed developer, said the applicants have been working with neighbors and the architect on a more appealing design for the retail store and they are willing to work to preserve the Baker house.
He said where the house is now located would serve for overflow parking for the retail development, if needed, or remain as green space. The developers would be willing to “carve out a small portion” where the house is located and donate to the town or an another organization, he said.
Jon Idman, chief regulatory officer for the Cape Cod Commission, told the board the proposed development does not meet the requirements for a mandatory referral to the commission. He said a discretionary referral is possible if the impact is regional and reaches beyond the local community.
If the board approves a referal, the commission then would have to decide to accept it, Idman said. That would be based on regional impact, values, interests, goals of regional concern. A single-family residence is not enough to create a regional impact unless it is on the National Register of Historic Places, he said. The Baker house is not listed.
If the commission accepted the filing, it could take upward to seven months for a decision, which would then be sent back to the planning board. The commission’s decision would be binding on the planning board. No permits could be issued while the commission conducts its review, not even a demolition permit for the Baker house, Idman said.
“The planning board could not be less restrictive than the Cape Cod Commission’s decision,” Idman said. “You create a regional jurisdiction by sending it to the commission.”
The developers are willing to work with the community to provide design improvements for the retail site, said Brubaker They have had no specific feedback on design, but it was suggested they look at the Cumberland Farms in Harwich Port. He said the dormer design was changed based on that design and moved away from an awning to the black shutters similar to the Cumberland Farms building. Brick proposed on the retail structure has also been removed.
“These are things we can do,” Brubaker said. “We’ll work with the community.”
“I appreciate the intent on the architecture,” board member Davis Harris said. “But the proposed details now look like a gas station.”
Harris proposed the architect look at the new harbormaster’s office at Saquatucket Harbor or the building just east of Cumberland Farms. The building should be in character with the neighborhood and not just present a box.
“I’d be opposed to referring it,” board member Joseph McParland said. “The neighbors are unhappy. But it’s allowed under zoning. We should make a decision under our authority.”
“The planing board is governed by zoning bylaws and retail is allowed there,” Greenhalgh said. “All that can be done is reasonable conditions. The planning board’s hands are tied; we have 1970 zoning. There is not a lot this board can do.”
Sally Urbano said there are 23 houses that have been approved for inclusion in a historic district. She wanted to know if a District of Critical Planning Concern could be approved by the commission. Idman said it would be inappropriate because the development is not big enough.
“This is an area of historic significance. It does fit one area for the Cape Cod Commission, cultural heritage. It’s the history of our town. This will dramatically change the appearance of this culturally rich area,” Karen Horn said. “It’s the entrance to our town and I’m imploring you to move it to the commission.”
“I’ve been here for 50 years and I don’t think West Harwich is a place for a chain store, or anywhere in Harwich,” Anne Marie Russell said. “It’s zoned commercial along Route 28. The horse is out of the barn, but we don’t have to tease it down the road. It’s a shame the town will let this happen. It’s also a shame we haven’t changed the zoning since 1970.”
The planning board agreed to continue the hearing to provide time for the proponents to work with the town and the neighbors in both seeking a means to preserve the Baker house and developing a more suitable design for the retail building. Harwich Retail LLC agreed to come back to the board’s June 11 meeting with at least an update, with a more definitive presentation potentially following on June 25.