Residents Speak Out Against West Harwich Development

By: William F. Galvin

West Harwich resident Mary Albis points to side streets around the proposed Harwich Retail development that will become more congested as traffic seeks alternative routes. WILLIAM F. GALVIN PHOTO

HARWICH — Harwich Retail made two presentations on Tuesday on its plans for property on Route 28 in West Harwich, one to residents of the community and the other to the planning board, but in both sessions residents made it clear they do not want the 7,489-square-foot retail store the company is proposing located in their village.

The project proponents held a 4 p.m. meeting in town hall with 20 people in attendance, followed by a meeting with the planning board that drew even higher attendance. Ultimately no decisions were made, with the planning board deciding to continue its hearing until June 25.

Chad Brubaker of Liscotti Development said the meeting was called to obtain additional feedback on the architectural and general design of the project. He also said the owners will try to save the historic Captain George Winchell Baker House located on the property where the new retail structure is proposed, offering to donate it to the town or another local organization. A two-tenths of an acre parcel could be set aside upon which the historic structure would remain. He also said the developers would make a donation toward the rehabilitation of the building, but the town would need to issue a 10-space parking waiver to effectuate a land swap.

Among those present there was not a lot of interest in the details of saving the house. The discussion focused more on not allowing the development of the retail outlet. The main concerns were related to traffic and safety, not just along Route 28 but with on side streets where some feared GPS would direct vehicles to avoid the congestion.

Resident Mary Albis raised questions about the traffic study conducted by the developer. Matthew Bombaci, the project engineer, said the study was acceptable to Massachusetts Department of Transportation. When Albis asked if a more comprehensive, unbiased study could be conducted, Bombaci and Burbaker said time constraints in the hearing process prevented that.

The study indicates 25 vehicle entering and leaving the site per hour, one vehicle every two minutes. Bombaci said MassDOT has a $5 million Route 28 road improvement project planned for 2024 along that stretch which will further reduce traffic congestion.

Albis and several other residents pushed to learn more about the type of retail operation planned for property, located at 48 and 52 Route 28. There were repeated references from attendees to a Dollar General store. Attendees pointed out there is a similar store just over the line in Dennis, and they questioned the need for another retail building when there are so many vacant ones in that area.

“We have certain confidentiality agreements and I’m not in a position to reveal it. We deal with multiple national corporations,” Brubaker said about the building's occupant.

“I came here today hoping there would be serious cooperation,” Albis said. “I don’t care what your building looks like, I don’t want it in my town.” Those were sentiments expressed repeatedly in the session.

Sally Quinn said if the project is approved she can see this type of development march down Route 28 to Harwich Port. The project should be referred to the Cape Cod Commission, she said.

“The Cape Cod Commission hates the people who live here. I can’t imaging what they’d do to you guys,” resident Mac McKennie said.

The project proponents and residents went back and forth for an hour and a half. There was little discussion about the architecture of the proposed building or preserving the Baker house. The focus instead was on not having the project in the village at all.

Later Tuesday evening the proponents went before the planning board. The session drew approximately 50 people with many speaking against the project. Brubaker explained efforts to save the Baker house and said he has met with Town Administrator Christopher Clark about the town’s interest in the structure. He also spoke to architectural changes made so that the new building will blend in with the historic aspects of the village.

Bombaci told the board of concerns expressed earlier about traffic from the development and called that issue a “greater global problem.”

Planning Board member Joseph McParland said nobody is talking about the property, which is zoned for the proposed use. If people aren’t happy they can change the zoning, he said.

Sally Urbano urged the board to refer the project to the Cape Cod Commission, which would provide time for zoning to be changed. Karen Horn said the decision not to move forward with a more comprehensive traffic study should serve as “a red flag.”

Planning board member Craig Chadwick said it would be difficult for the board to refer the project to the commission. The applicant appeared willingness to work with the board, he said. Other members cited the provisions of a limited discretionary referral that requires the board to identify a regional impact.

Town Planner Charleen Greenhalgh said in her communication with Sarah Korjeff, historic preservation specialist with the commission, the preliminary initiative in getting the historic structures in the proposed Captains’ Row Historic District might be enough to have the commission accept a referral.

Duncan Berry, one of the prime movers in the Captains’ Row initiative, urged the planning board to get creative and help with their efforts.

“Captains’ Row was born of commerce and there are spectacular buildings here,” Berry said. “This fabric, if you puncture a hole in it, it won’t be the same fabric. Get zoning laws right. Were dropping a cinder block into a puddle here.”