HARWICH — The Barnstable County Assembly of Delegates gave its unanimous approval to the designation of a West Harwich District of Critical Planning Concern last week. The final step in the approval must be taken by the Barnstable County Commissioners, but it is unlikely to receive unanimous support.
In a statement, commissioner Ron Beaty said he was opposed to the proposal and intended to vote against the ordinance when the commission met this Wednesday. Beaty issued the statement the day after the Assembly of Delegates cast a 100 percent vote in support of the ordinance.
Beaty said after conducting relevant research and in keeping with the signed pledge he took in 2016 as a county commissioner candidate to staunchly defend and protect private property rights, he will officially be voting in opposition to the ordinance.
“It is my reasonable contention that county ordinance 19-19 and the West Harwich District of Critical Planning Concern (DCPC) in question violates the inherent private property rights of owners in the relevant area, as well as the pledge that I took several years ago,” he wrote.
The oath, he said, states that he will “not use the power of my office to advance laws, policies, or regulations which I believe would most likely result in the loss of any reasonable use, in taking, or in any other damage to private property rights unless provisions for just compensation having first been made or legally established in any such law, policy or regulation.”
The assembly of delegates took a different position. Cape Cod Commission historic preservation planner Sarah Korjeff said the measure protects cultural, historic and archaeological resources, enhances transportation safety fosters balanced economic development in the proposed district.
She defined the layout of the proposed 1.1 mile district as extending 200 feet deep from just west of the Herring River along Route 28 to the Dennis town line. There are 24 historic structures dating from 1750 to 1914 along that stretch determined by the Massachusetts Historical Commission to be eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, she said.
Speaking to transportation issues, Korjeff said there are 10,000 vehicle trips per day on that section of Route 28, and the last five years of data show 40 accidents, including a fatality. There are also no pedestrian or bike path provisions and new regulations could play a role in enhancing the local economy.
Town Planner Charleen Greenhalgh said a 7,485-square-foot retail project, which included demolition of the historic Captain Baker house in the area known as Captains’ Row, is what brought to light how fragile the area is and the need to improve regulations to incentivize development to protect community character.
Selectman Donald Howell said pursuing the process is not something the town is taking lightly. He said the DCPC will allow a “timeout” to address current day zoning issues. On behalf of the board of selectmen and the town, he urged the assembly to issue a positive vote to allow the zoning work to begin.
The history of the village, its density, quality and styles of architecture creates “a multi-generational unfolding dialogue of what the good life looked like for about six generations on Cape Cod,” said Planning board member Duncan Berry, who has been an advocate for the protection of Captains’ Row and establishment of the district.
Harwich Delegate of Assembly representative Elizabeth Harder offered a motion for approval, pointing out residents of the village have been focused on the initiative for the past five years.
“I’m begging you to please pass this,” Harder said.
On Monday night Greenhalgh made a presentation to selectmen in anticipation of the county commissioners approval on Wednesday. Greenhalgh said with the commission's approve, the town has 12 months to draft and vote on zoning amendments associated with the DCPC.
She told selectmen initially she was looking to put together the zoning amendment package for the DCPC for the May annual town meeting, but came to the realization that deadline could not be met.
“We’ve really got to think about this,” she said. “It’s only three months to work on this and that isn’t really enough time” to draft amendments and conduct the required public hearings. “It would be an injustice to try to do this quickly. We’ll need input from the folks in the area.”
Greenhalgh said her goal is to conduct meetings and workshops every two weeks, inviting members of the board of selectmen, planing board and the public to work closely with a team of Cape Cod Commission staff that is ready to help.
Board of Selectmen Chairman Larry Ballantine also recommended moving cautiously, adding this has been an issue for West Harwich for a long time. He said the board stands ready to help in any way it can.
Greenhalgh also said she is planning to retire on July 3, but she is hoping to have the bulk of the work done by then. Approval of the zoning amendments will be required in a town meeting within the 12-month period, so it is likely the zoning package would be placed before the voters within the next year.