Harwich officials made the right move in nominating the section of Route 28 in West Harwich known as Captains' Row to the Cape Cod Commission as a District of Critical Planning Concern. Given the development pressure that is creeping into this area, a DCPC designation can't come too soon.
The neighborhood, from the Denis town line to the west bank of the Herring River, contains a dense grouping of well-preserved historic homes built between the mid 1700s to the 1940s. Many date from the mid 1800s and were built by Harwich sea captains. These stately homes reflect the wealth and status these mariners acquired in sailing the world's seas, and the fact that many of them remain intact and in good condition is a testament to subsequent owners' willingness to preserve this important aspect of the town's heritage.
But we can't always depend on that continuing. Indeed, some of the area's historic homes are in danger of being lost, chief among them the former Bishop's Terrace restaurant and the Captain Baker House, both of which suffer from the type of “demolition by neglect” that preservationists rue. Indeed, the Baker house nearly became a parking lot for a proposed discount store, and still may. It's a significant factor in making the drive to designate the area a District of Critical Planning Concern so timely.
Many property owners along Captains' Row back its designation as a National Historic Register District, but that will take time and actually does very little in terms of preserving existing historical buildings and preventing their destruction. If accepted by the Cape Cod Commission, a DCPC nomination triggers a moratorium on certain types of development, such as new construction and demolitions. The commission then holds hearings and considers the request and rules and regulations specific to the district are developed by the town. If the commission votes to endorse the nomination, it then goes to the Barnstable County Assembly of Delegates and County Commissioners for votes. If those agency's approve, the regulations, if approved by town meeting, go into effect.
There's every reason to believe that the commission will accept the nomination since it meets many of the DCPC criteria of protecting “natural, coastal, scientific, cultural, architectural, archaeological, historic, economic, or recreational resources or values of regional, statewide, or national significance.” The “time out” it will provide will give the town the opportunity to examine more closely what would happen under existing zoning and make adjustments to concerns both residents and property owners have about preserving the historic resources in the area. This process should be detailed and deliberate, so that like the other DCPC in Harwich, the Six Ponds District, a Captains' Row District will protect the interests of all townspeople while ensuring that Harwich's heritage is not sacrificed to short-sighted economic interests.