Controversial West Harwich Retail Plan Withdrawn

By: William F. Galvin

Chad Brubaker of Liscotti Development informs the planning board Tuesday evening the Harwich Retail LLC retail outlet development proposed for Route 28 in West Harwich was being withdrawn. WILLIAM F. GALVIN PHOTOS

HARWICH — The proponents of a controversial retail development project proposed in West Harwich withdrew Tuesday evening as the planning board was poised to vote on a limited discretionary referral to the Cape Cod Commission.

Chad Brubaker of Liscotti Development has been the major proponent of the 7,489-square-foot retail outlet proposed along Route 28. He read a letter at the start of Tuesday evening’s session requesting the project be withdrawn without prejudice. Planning Board member Joseph McParland offered a motion to allow the request and the board approve it.

“That’s good news,” West Harwich resident Elaine Gray said of the action.

“Right now there is no plan for coming back,” Brubaker told The Chronicle after the project was withdrawn. However, a withdrawal without prejudice allows the proponents to file another application with the board for a development. Brubaker said any such decision will require conversations with the party interested in developing the property.

There has been a lot of energy exerted in West Harwich over the past few years to preserve the historic setting of the village and establish a Captains’ Row Historic District. Community character and cultural heritage have been focal points of the initiative.

Protests against the proposed development have been building during the six months it has been before the planning board. The development was proposed on two lots, owned by Harwich Retail LLC and containing 63,295 square feet, one of which presently holds the historic Captain George Winchell Baker House. The old house is in disrepair could have been demolished to make way for parking for the development.

Residents of the area made it clear they do not want a retail structure in the village and expressed dissatisfaction with the architectural design of the building. Residents were frustrated with local zoning regulations which allow locating retail structures to be approved without identification of the type of operation.

Given the ties project proponent Liscotti Development has with Dollar General, a discount outlet, there has been much speculation that the Harwich Retail development would be a Dollar General or similar store. Residents argued against the need given a Dollar Tree outlet and Ocean State Job Lot are located a quarter mile away in Dennis.

“I feel great about it at the moment, but we have a lot of work to do,” project opponent Sally Urbano said of the decision to withdraw.

“My understanding is it will constitute a temporary victory, allowing us to buy time. They can file an application in the future and start all over again,” said Duncan Berry, another opponent of the project. “It means for us we will have to get our action plan together in the next week.”

Berry, who lives across Route 28 from the proposed development, has been a prime mover in the establishment of a Captains’ Row Historic District along that stretch of Route 28. After 150 people came to a planning board meeting in June to protest the project, Berry said it was wonderful to have so many neighbors throughout the community involved. He praised the social media outreach, saying three posts this past week engaged 1,800 people.

“We have to see if there is the political will of the board of selectmen to refer a district of critical planning concern to the Cape Cod Commission,” Berry said of one step in the action plan. “We have the finances and there are political milestones we need to realign and community relationships to build.”

Berry said he has been meeting with Town Planner Charleen Greenhalgh to discuss the potential for a new zoning district or an overlay district in the neighborhood. He also said the group has begun working with an attorney and finalizing a relationship with a historic preservation consultant.

It was the community voice in the last session that convinced the planning board to consider a limited discretionary referral to the Cape Cod Commission, which has wider regulatory authority. But the board wanted first to identify the provisions under which the project could be referred.

Greenhalgh had prepared a referral package for the board to act on Tuesday night that relied on community design, cultural heritage, transportation and the economy as provisions that would have a regional impact and warrant review by the commission.

The area from the Herring River to Chase Library has been identified by staff of the Massachusetts Historical Commission as meeting the criteria for listing in the National Register for its historic and architectural significance.

“The proposal raises concerns about the protection and preservation of significant cultural and historic values and resources, particularly the protection of layouts, scale, massing and character defining features of historic resources, including traditional development patterns of the village and neighborhood,” Greenhalgh's report reads.

The proposal raised concerns about the protection and preservation of significant cultural and historic values and resources, including traditional development patterns of the village and neighborhood, it concluded.

“Route 28 serves as a transportation connection between Harwich and Dennis and towns beyond (Orleans to Falmouth),” according to the document. “The proposal raises concerns about safety and traffic impacts on Route 28 and the surrounding neighborhood roads.”

The planning board believes additional retail of the size proposed could have regional economic effects given the uses and development in the greater West Harwich/Dennis Port area, according to Greenhalgh's report.

“Further, the planning board has not been able to begin to analyze the potential regional economic issues involved given the review constraints under the zoning bylaw, and is not even able, given the zoning constraints, to confirm, who or what the exact retail business proposed is,” she wrote.