It's unfortunate that the proposed Main Street Overlay District zoning amendment, scheduled to go before voters at Saturday's special town meeting, did not get a thorough enough airing earlier. It's problematic and in its current form should not be approved.
The overlay district clearly lacks the specificity needed to justify the tradeoff of less restrictive zoning for continuation of the iconic theater and restoration of the historic Washington Taylor House and the theater building. Statements made by principal of owner Alexandra Properties, Greg Clark, indicate that he's not likely to bring in another university to run a program similar to the one that operated at the theater for more than 70 years, so the town is being asked to allow extremely dense, likely expensive multi-family housing — certainly nothing that will help ease the affordable and attainable housing crunch — in exchange for, what exactly? The proposed facilities would not be sufficient to support a summer training theater, former Monomoy Theatre Artistic Director Alan Rust said this week. A modern year-round community theater would certainly be nice, but the long-running Chatham Drama Guild sometimes has trouble attracting audiences in the off season, and both the Orleans Academy Playhouse and the Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater in Wellfleet have had to shut down or restructure in recent years due to financial problems. Again, is this worth surrendering control over the zoning on a key piece of downtown property?
We don't think so, and neither do the planning board, the board of selectmen and many supporters of the theater. Perhaps with more work, more safeguards, more specificity, some form of Alexandra Properties' plan could become a reality. But it should be under the existing general business zoning, not an excessively permissive overlay district. They'd have to make the case that it's in the best interest of the town. We urge voters to turn down the petition article at Saturday's special town meeting. In the worst case, the property will be redeveloped as retail space and the theater won't return; as noted, the curtain has already fallen on what we all knew as the Monomoy Theatre. Not the best scenario, but at least the theater and historic Washington Taylor House will still be protected under the the historic business district commission. We would encourage Alexandra Properties to work with town officials to develop a plan that meets their needs, and the community's, without the town having to leave the stage, and put it before voters in the spring.