West Harwich DCPC Goes To Commission; Selectmen, Plan Board Back Nomination

By: William F. Galvin

Topics: Zoning/land use , Historic preservation

Harwich News.

HARWICH — The board of selectmen voted unanimously Monday night to nominate a section of Route 28 in West Harwich from the Dennis town line to the west side of the Herring River to the Cape Cod Commission for a District of Critical Planning Concern designation.

The selectmen’s nomination came after the planning board last week also voted to pursue a nomination of the district based on a draft nomination application prepared by Town Planner Charleen Greenhalgh. Selectmen on Monday night made a few adjustments to the application based on recommendations from Greenhalgh.

The document approved by the planning board set the district limits at a 200-foot setback from Route 28, mirroring the Commercial Highway One District along that stretch of road. On Monday Greenhalgh requested that the nomination follow the rear lot lines of properties fronting on Route 28 throughout the proposed district. That increases the size of the district from 32 to 43 acres.

There are exemptions to three properties, one at 93 and 97 Route 28 where Habitat for Humanity is permitted to build a six-house 40B permit project to the rear, and a house at 156 Riverside Drive, which is currently outside the CH-1 zone. The panhandle section of that property extending to Route 28 would be included in the district. One house along Division Street will also remain outside the district.

The selectmen also set a cutoff date of Sept. 16 for any permitted development or redevelopment which will be allowed to continue during the consideration of the nomination for designation by ordinance.

Geenhalgh told selectmen the “heavy moratorium” will begin on the day the DCPC legal notice is published in the newspaper. That will halt everything in the district for about two weeks, she said. Greenhalgh estimated the moratorium would take place three to four days after the nomination is sent to the commission. The nomination was expected to be sent immediately following the board’s vote.

If the nomination is accepted, a lighter moratorium would be implemented. There is a section of the nomination defining the types of proposed development that would be allowed during the deliberation process relating to normal and customary repairs and maintenance to single-family residences, interior expansion to commercial, retail and mixed use structures and allowances for signs.

The criteria for DCPC nominations include cultural, historic, architectural, or archaeological resources, economic or development resources and transportation management.

The planning board last week voted 5-1 to approve and forward the DCPC nomination to the Cape Cod Commission and to recommend and send the nomination crafted by the town planner to selectmen for consideration.

Moving the nomination forward was met with some opposition within the planning board. Planning Board member Craig Chadwick was not present for the meeting, but he issued a memo to the board making clear his position for not supporting this DCPC nomination, writing that he is in favor of preserving historic buildings, providing it can be done safely.

“I am not in favor of taking any action (for example: designating a DCPC) that would invoke a moratorium to further delay and/or avoid the issuance of demolition permit for the Capt. Baker House on Route 28 and Depot Road, once the demo delay bylaw period for that building has expired…,” Chadwick stated in his memo.

He referred to a letter from the fire department to the historic district and historic commission when that group was weighing issuance of a demolition delay for the Baker house a year ago. In the letter, the fire department said there were life-safety issues in the building and expressed concern about its continued deterioration should the delay be put in place.

Planning Board Chairman Joseph McParland also was not in support of the board’s approval of a DCPC nomination at this time. McParland said the selectmen’s referral vote on Aug. 12 did not specifically request a draft nomination from the planning board and he was not sure the board was heading in the right direction. McParland said he was not prepared to vote for the nomination without further discussion with selectmen.

But a majority of planning board members were in support of moving forward with a DCPC. Member David Harris, speaking of the Baker house, said his experience tells him there is no building that can’t be substantially renovated and the structure could be on the National Register and included in the Captain’s Row district.

“Destroying that building would do significant damage to that heritage,” Harris said.

Member Mary Maslowski said she personally doesn’t think the DCPC nomination is about that building, “but it is a beautiful stretch.”

Cape Cod Commission historic preservation staff member Sarah Korjeff said the decision is up to the town, but there are three questions the Cape Cod Commission will ask. First is whether there are important resources located there. Korjeff said the Massachusetts Historical Commission’s evaluation done there would say yes.

Would a special planning effort help address the issues of concern? Korjeff said it is clear changes in zoning could protect issues of concern. Finally, can the Cape Cod Commission staff help the community?

“I’d say yes,” Korjeff responded. “I’d argue you meet those three questions.”

The nomination states: “The DCPC process will provide the opportunity to look comprehensively at the development potential of the proposed district under existing zoning and to provide more effective regulations and guidance to property owners and developers.

“Designation of the area as a DCPC will also provide the opportunity to incentivize appropriate development while also ensuring appropriate layout, design and scale of desirable uses. This is an important aspect in gaining a balance between protecting community character (cultural heritage and community design) and addressing realistic commercial/economic needs of the community.”

It is estimated that if the DCPC nomination is approved by the commission it would take about nine months to go through the district planning process. During that time a moratorium on commercial development in the proposed district would remain in place. Ultimately, new regulations will require a town meeting vote.

Selectman Donald Howell put forth the motion for selectmen to approve the nomination.

“Thank you for all the work,” Howell said of Greenhalgh’s efforts. “People 50 to 100 years from now are going to be grateful for all the work you’ve done.”