Selectmen To Consider Draft Commission Referral Of Webb Plan

By: Ed Maroney

Topics: Development

The Underground Mall would be replaced by a retail and wholesale plumbing supply business under a proposal now being reviewed by the town. FILE PHOTO 

ORLEANS – Questions about building size, traffic to be generated, and whether the operation is retail or wholesale were raised by the selectmen last week as they discussed the F. W. Webb building proposed for the Underground Mall site off Route 6A near the Brewster line.

The board wants to hear more from all parties before making a decision about a discretionary referral of the project to the Cape Cod Commission, which would suspend local permitting. The 38,329-square-foot structure proposed is under the 40,000-square-foot threshold that would trigger a mandatory referral to the commission, Director of Planning and Community Development George Meservey told the board May 13. A discretionary referral of the project for review as a Development of Regional Impact is still possible, as is a request for technical support to town boards on certain issues.

At the board’s request, Meservey will prepare a draft referral for further discussion at a meeting in June. The draft will be available for public review in the selectmen’s meeting packet the previous Friday.

“It is a large building,” Meservey said, “a significant increase in mass. That’s under review by the Old King’s Highway (Regional Historic District Committee). They’re gonna get to those issues.”

The development also needs three special permits from the zoning board of appeals as it’s a commercial space greater than 2,500 square feet, straddles two zoning districts, and needs a reduction in required parking spaces.

The business would be accessed via Bakers Pond Road and Nell’s Way, and the company has promised to improve that intersection to ease entry for its delivery trucks. Selectmen Kevin Galligan and Mefford Runyon expressed concern about traffic, with the latter questioning “company-supplied” estimates “without any kind of verification or substantiation of what they experience in their other locations.”

Wholesaling is not an allowed use in this zoning district, but the company has argued that its business here would be primarily retail, with homeowners and contractors shopping for its plumbing and other products in showrooms. It says the building would not serve as an interim stop for materials that would then be trucked to other retail stores.

“I’d like to point out that most of these F. W. Webbs around the Northeast are all in industrial areas,” Selectman Cecil Newcomb said. “They are wholesalers. That’s how they describe themselves. They do not belong in that area, so they can move down to Giddiah Hill (the industrial zone). There’s plenty of room.”

Selectmen Chairman Mark Mathison looked back to his college days and a part-time job at a plumbing wholesale company. “It’s the plumber that’s paying for this and then billing the homeowner,” he said. “He may take on the sales tax, but to me that’s kind of a slim argument to maintain that this is a retail as opposed to wholesale” operation.

Speaking from his experience as a licensed contractor, Selectman David Currier said homeowners “don’t pay the plumber either. They usually pay the contractor and the contractor pays the plumber. (The money goes through) two or three hands before it gets over to that supply house. It’s definitely a wholesale (business), in my opinion. I recommend referring it to the Cape Cod Commission.”

The selectmen’s packet for last night’s (May 20) meeting included a letter from Bob Renn, a member of the finance committee, who wrote, “I’m dismayed that you are so concerned about the distinction between a wholesale and retail business in this location.” He added that the site “is rapidly becoming an eyesore in the so-called “Gateway’ to Orleans” and that the development “would bring jobs, tax revenue and shoppers to the town.” A referral to the Commission “is simply passing the buck.”