Neighbors Oppose Harwich Center Apartments; Housing Proponents Say They're Needed

By: William F. Galvin

Topics: Housing and homelessness

Harwich news.

HARWICH — The Royal Apartment presentation to the planning board has raised an interesting dynamic related to dwelling unit density in Harwich Center versus the need for additional workforce housing.

The project presented to the board last week seeks to convert the former nursing home/assisted living facility and senior day care center on the corner of Bank and Parallel streets into a 26-unit apartment complex. There are no plans to alter the exterior of the buildings, though there will be an expansion of parking to accommodate the proposed 41 spaces.

Parking issues were one concern expressed by the board of appeals on Wednesday night as members gave strong signals to the project proponents they were not supportive of issuing a variance for multi-family dwelling development on less than 10 acres with more than eight bedrooms per acre. The project proponents requested a continuance before the appeals board voted.

Attorney Benjamin Zehnder, representing Royal Apartments LLC, said the proposal would be located on an 82,443-square-foot lot in the Multifamily Residential Low Density District in the Harwich Center Overlay District and the Harwich Center Historic District.

Multi-family residential use is allowed in the RM-L District by special permit. However, Zehnder said a variance from the appeals board would also be required because regulations require 10 acres with a maximum density of eight bedrooms per acre. The plan is for five studio, 14 one-bedroom and seven two-bedroom apartments. The applicant is also seeking a site plan review special permit from the planning board for the proposed use and for additional parking.

Project manager David Michniewicz of Coastal Engineering, Inc. told the planning board last Tuesday that said there would be expansion of the parking area, and the number of driveways along Parallel Street would be reduced from three to two. There would be minor changes to the existing parking lot and a new lot constructed. While 39 spaces are required, 41 are proposed.

There would be drainage system improvements to the new lot where now stormwater runs from the existing parking lot and filters through the woods into wetlands. The improvements will be done outside the wetland buffer zone, Michniewicz said. As for the sewerage disposal system designed for the assisted living facility, it is adequately sized for the 26 units proposal, he said. The parking lot will be placed over the leaching field. Zehnder said there will be eight-foot arborvitaes and spruce trees planted to serve as screening for the parking lot. The out building along Parallel Street will be converted to four of the apartments, he added.

Town Planner Charleen Greenhalgh said town staff met with the project proponents several times before they purchased the property to inform them what they will need to do and the revised plan has addressed many of the concerns that were raised.

Planning board member Bill Stoltz raised issues about the location of a dumpster at the bottom of a short driveway up against the building. Fire Inspector Bruce Young also had concerns about the dumpster being against a doorway, saying a fire there would immediately spread to the building. Board member Craig Chadwick also questioned whether there was enough parking for 26 units.

Attorney David Reid, representing Greg Winston and David Plunkett, the former owners of the building who own the Winstead Inn and Beach Resort across Parallel Street, raised several issues relating to zoning compliance, including parking setbacks, which he said are not being met. He also said there was no landscape plan filed with the application.

Reid said the proposal equates to 18 bedrooms per acre where eight are allowed. That is more than double and not appropriate, he said. He also raised issues relating to traffic, saying police and fire vehicles use Parallel Street to avoid traffic in Harwich Center. He also said his clients disagree that the 26 units would be similar to activities at the former assisted living facility, pointing out people in assisted living were not driving back and forth from the post office and shopping.

“The 66 people year-round would be a world of difference,” Reid said of vehicle movement.

Bank Street resident Carla Burke also spoke about traffic congestion, explaining she walks to work at Brook Free Library. She asked if the town’s traffic safety committee was consulted. She wanted to know if there were traffic calming measures proposed.

Housing proponents supported the project.

“I think this is a great project. We’ve heard a lot about traffic. Every time we try to do something, we hear about traffic,” Housing Committee Chairman Art Bodin said. “What are we doing about people? We need more apartments up and down the Cape. We need places for people to live. We talk about reviving Harwich Center. What better way than to bring people to Harwich Center. The developer is willing to work with people. Give him a chance to do it.”

The proposal will provide more housing stock, a place for young people to live, added Judith Underwood, a member of the housing authority and affordable housing trust. It’s a great opportunity to make the village more walkable, more vibrant again, she said.

Brooks Free Library director Ginny Hewitt, who has served on the Harwich Center Initiative Committee, said she initially thought the density was high, but added that with room size and parking it meets requirements. Hewitt said she fully supports the proposal.

“I’m against it. If you approve this project, you’ll set a precedent across the Cape,” Englewood Drive resident Alan Wirsal said. “You are about ready to embark on changing the whole dynamic of the place. I can’t for the life of me understand how the planning board and zoning board can approve a project like this.”

Winston spoke about the constraints on him when he owned the property. He said he had room for a dozen guests in 1981 and in 1986 they built an addition, increasing capacity to 32 guests, but couldn’t have more kitchens.

“This density is insane,” Winston said. “This is a for-profit organization, and people packed in there like sardines is a bad idea.”

Brendan Lowney, a member of the affordable housing trust, said single-family house development on the Cape and more so in Harwich is out of balance with the rest of the state, adding there is a need for more multi-family housing. He supported the proposal.

Zehnder said the 33-bedroom capacity would be less intense than the assisted living, health care and senior day care services that were previously provided there. He said with working residents there would be more of a scheduled and less of an impact on traffic.

There are two things happening here, Zehnder said: people in the neighborhood citing traffic and density and the rest speaking about housing needs of the community. This will provide 26 dwelling units for people who can live and work in town and it’s not being built with community money.

“You’re not here to protect the neighbors. You’re here for the community,” Zehnder said. “We could put in 15, three-bedroom units. We could do it, but it would be more intense.”

Zehnder agreed to a continuance to provide the board with the landscape plan and said the dumpster would be moved. The appeals board continued the hearing to its Feb. 26 meeting, and Greenhalgh said Zehnder asked to continue the planning board hearing to Tuesday, March 10.