Municipal Participation Sought To Revitalize Harwich Center

By: William F. Galvin

Topics: Zoning/land use , Economic development

New development for Harwich Center got underway this week with the lot holding the former gas station in the center of the village being cleared so the foundation for the new convenience store with two apartments above can be put in place. WILLIAM F. GALVIN PHOTO

HARWICH — There will be another effort by a Harwich Center Initiative Committee, working more closely with town agencies, to develop a road map for revitalizing Harwich Center.

Selectmen last week heard a report from the committee, which was put in place a year ago and charged with shaping a plan but which took a hiatus last March. Committee members said they needed additional assistance, including traffic, parking and economic studies for the village; a traffic study and anticipated by the committee from the Cape Cod Commission was not conducted and it is questionable whether it was ever sought.

“The committee never fully understood the power and impetus it had to actually get traction and get things done,” HCIC Chairman Dan Wolf told selectmen. “There are so many town functions, day-to-day planning, and we didn’t understand that relationship.”

Wolf said there are different factions feeding into the initiative, such as efforts by the town and the chamber of commerce working in parallel to establish a cultural district for Harwich Center.

The need for a traffic study for the village was identified as a major tool for shaping goals. The committee's hiatus was in part to wait for the study. Wolf said traffic moving through Harwich Center in the summer is almost the same as traveling through Harwich Port, and that is the good news, but getting it to stop and finding a place to put vehicles is another issue.

There have been plans to establish parking behind the buildings on the south side of Main Street, but Wolf said that was met with resistance from neighbors and business owners. The initiative needs more of a town directive and vision through selectmen, the town administrator, town planner and the department of public works, he said.

More than a month ago, Paul Doane, who was serving as a co-chairman to the committee at the outset, sent a letter to selectmen requesting the appointment of new members, especially from municipal government, including representation from selectmen.

Wolf said there is clearly a need to continue to focus on Harwich Center and address it aesthetically and economically. To do that, Wolf said they are going to need to address zoning and infrastructure issues, including wastewater. Wastewater issues will not be addressed through individual septic systems, he said; it will take a group of property owners coming together to develop a small-scale cluster system.

He explained the committee didn’t have the direction and traction to do these things. Wolf suggested the town administrator bring town departments together to work with a committee. It is going to require putting money into infrastructure to accomplish these goals, he said, adding that selectmen will have to decide if that will be worth it for the town. Wolf, a former state senator, said there are state and federal resources that can help with these projects.

Committee member Ginny Hewitt said the charge was not just about making the village pretty; it would require traffic flow and parking and all that was contingent on a study by the Cape Cod Commission.

Selectman Stephen Ford wanted to know when the town last communicated with the commission about a study. Board of Selectmen Chairman Larry Ballantine said he did not think they actually communicated with the commission on the topic.

Hewitt also pointed out the committee had problems getting answers on whether they could reach out to individual commercial developers, fearing that such efforts could be construed as state ethics violations. She urged more town department participation, pointing out staff members have those discussions on a regular basis.

Selectman Donald Howell said the first bank on Cape Cod was located in the village, there was the Exchange Building, a major mercantile center, and there was a post office. It was the hub, but one by one the operations were deleted, he said.

“We don’t know what we want to be when we grow up,” Howell said of a vision for the village.

There is a need to communicate a vision, create a road map, he said, before that will begin to happen. “I’d like to hear what we want to do there,” he said.

Selectman Ed McManus said the “parcelization” of properties doesn’t leave a lot of space to do infrastructure work. He also said there is a need for more residential density around the center, because the summer economy will not be enough to make it viable.

The group agreed any plans will have to be done in conjunction with the updating of the town’s local comprehensive plan scheduled to begin in the spring. Selectman Michael MacAskill's motion for Ford to get together with Interim Town Administrator Joseph Powers to shape a new charge for the initiative committee was approved.

With a history of his grandfather and great grandfather having businesses in the village, Ford expressed a willingness to work on the project. The board instructed Ford and Powers to return with a new charge within a month.