HARWICH —Public hearings on two zoning amendments that will be acted on at the Sept. 26 annual town meeting will be held by the planning board next week.
The zoning amendments seek to establish a West Harwich Special District, designed to preserve the historic character of a section of West Harwich, and an amendment aimed at increasing multifamily dwelling units in the community. The planning board will hold the two public hearings on Tuesday, Sept. 22 at 6:30 p.m. through remote participation.
The Cape Cod Commission earlier this month voted to accept the West Harwich Special District amendment as meeting the guidelines for the district of critical planning for the neighborhood approved last December. The district covers the Commercial Highway-One District along Route 28 from the Herring River to the Dennis town line.
There has long been an interest in protecting the historic character of this stretch of West Harwich. In 2007 the Harwich Heritage Landscape Reconnaissance Report recommended designating the town's historically significant neighborhoods as local historic districts to preserve individual properties as well as neighborhood character.
Efforts have been underway for the past few years to preserve the historic character of what has become known as Captains’ Row, a reference to the many sea captains who settled in the village in the 1800s. From these initiatives and residents' efforts to block major retail developments, the DCPC ordinance approved by the county has led to the shaping of the West Harwich Special District zoning amendment that is subject to next week's hearing.
The multifamily dwelling zoning amendment was the results of discussions a year ago between the planning board and board of selectmen on ways to provide more affordable and workforce housing in the community.
Based on those discussions, Town Planner Charleen Greenhalgh drafted language for selectmen to be placed in the warrant. There is also a need to consolidate multifamily provisions scattered throughout the zoning bylaw; the amendment places these provisions in one section of the bylaw, she said, as well as correcting typos and grammatical errors.
The amendment standardizes acreage requirements in the various zoning districts for multifamily units, requiring a minimum of 40,000 square feet for a vacant lot. For lawfully pre-existing, non-conforming structures or uses converting to multifamily residence the existing lot size would be allowable.
Lot sizes vary in the present zoning document, Greenhalgh said. The Multifamily Residential Light District requires 10 acres and allows eight bedrooms per acre, while the MRL-One District requires eight acres with four bedrooms per acre. The Residential High Density District stipulates 40,000 square feet.
“The differences in lot areas were crazy,” Greenhalgh said. “It’s all over the place and to me it’s just not right. There is no rhyme or reason.”
The proposed amendment will still require a special permit and a site plan review special permit from the by planning board. Issuance is not a matter of right; such projects still have to fit into the neighborhood, Greenhalgh said.
“It’s kind of working backward, it’s formula based,” Greenhalgh said of establishing unit numbers on septic system size, parking and lot coverage.
The goal of the amendment is to create housing to accommodate families of varying incomes, especially providing workforce housing and homes for families just starting out, she said.
Voters will gather in the annual town meeting on Saturday, Sept 26 at 10 a.m. to act on the zoning amendments.