Planning Board Examines Draft Of West Harwich Special District

By: William F. Galvin

Topics: Municipal Planning and Zoning , Historic preservation

Harwich news.

HARWICH — The planning board is hoping to prepare at least some of the provisions necessary to implement the West Harwich District of Critical Planning Concern in time for adoption in the September annual town meeting.

But last week Town Planner Charleen Greenhalgh told the board that it was unclear whether the board of selectmen will even be accepting additional articles for the meeting warrant.

The planning board got a look this past week at a five-page working draft of a West Harwich Special District bylaw assembled by Greenhalgh with the assistance of the Cape Cod Commission.

The Cape Cod Commission, Barnstable County Assembly of Delegates and the Barnstable County Commissioners last year agreed to the selectmen's request to establish the DCPC along a stretch of Route 28 from the Herring River Bridge to the Dennis town line. The town has a year from the Dec. 4 approval date to put the district in place.

The planning process for the DCPC ran into a wall with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Greenhalgh was prepared in March to conduct workshops on the planning process, but the pandemic interceded, making such gatherings impossible. The Cape Cod Commission had provided an 11-page memo to the planning department in March to assist in drafting the special district bylaw.

The purpose of the district, as defined in the working draft, is “to preserve the significant historic and architectural resources in the area, to guide development to be consistent with the area’s unique character, to address safety and transportation impacts with the commercial zone on Route 28, and to promote small-scale business consistent with the area’s character.”

Planning Board member Craig Chadwick wanted information about process and procedure. With the annual town meeting in September, there is a minimal amount of time to put the regulations together, given the need to place the zoning document on the warrant ahead of time.

Chadwick said he was concerned because there should be a lot of public input before the measures go to town meeting. He suggested the board communicate with the Cape Cod Commission’s legal counsel to see if, given the COVID pandemic, they could have until next year to complete the process.

“Is it reasonable to think we’ll have time?” Chadwick asked.

Greenhalgh said there is a provision allowing a six month extension. The town may not have to put the whole bylaw together now, but would need a portion of the DCPC in place before the December deadline, she said.

Cape Cod Commission historic preservationist Sarah Korjeff confirmed that the DCPC process has provisions allowing a six month extension, and the town could address just the two main items initially. One item is revised dimensional regulations, setbacks and height and so forth; the other is vehicle access to properties. Korjeff said those could be addressed in the annual town meeting and other issues could be taken care of in a later town meeting.

Chadwick wanted to know whether the planning board needed to take a vote to request the extension. Greenhalgh said selectmen filed the DCPC nomination so it would be up to them to make the request.

Chadwick also suggested the likelihood of a low turnout for the annual town meeting given pandemic conditions; the DCPC could end up being approved by a small number of townspeople. Chadwick wanted to know how much lead time the board had before the warrant closed.

Greenhalgh said she has asked selectmen but has not received a warrant closure date. The planning board needs to begin making decisions, she said, adding that she has reached out to people who have made requests for the draft working document and has received comments back from some.

Planning Board member Duncan Berry praised the draft, saying it contains “careful consideration.” The entire five-page document is “a great effort,” he said.

Planning Board member Mary Maslowski suggested the board seek public input on the draft at the next meeting. Chairman Joseph McParland said the session may be too long, with a proposed miniature golf course use special permit request being heard that evening.

It was suggested that the first meeting in August was better suited for the DCPC discussion. Greenhalgh said there are also other means of getting the information out. A video providing the public with the details of the draft special district bylaw could be made, she suggested.

If members of the board have questions relating to the working draft they should send them to her and they should keep moving forward with the draft, Greenhalgh said.

“I’m open to input from anybody and everybody. I have no pride of ownership,” she said of the draft document.

Selectmen on Monday night were scheduled to review a draft version of the annual town meeting warrant that did not contain an article for the West Harwich Special District.