Remediation Work Winding Down At Handler Auto Parts Site

By: William F. Galvin

Topics: Development , Conservation

Jeff Handler stands on the newly remediated grounds of the Handler Auto Parts property along Route 28 in Harwich Port. The 3.14-acre parcel has been cleaned of heavy metals and old auto parts in advance of future development there. WILLIAM F. GALVIN PHOTO

Still No Plans For Future Development 

HARWICH — The land remediation work on the 3.14-acre Handler Auto Parts site along Route 28 in Harwich Port is nearing completion, but there remains no plan for the redevelopment of the land, which commands sweeping views of Allen Harbor and its marsh.

Jeff Handler said this week no decisions have been made on future plans for development of the property, which is zoned for commercial and mixed use. But Handler made it clear he wants to work with the community and town boards and committees to place something there Harwich wants.

“The ideas are endless, but we just haven’t thought it through to whether they are sustainable and can pay for itself,” Handler told The Chronicle.

Handler said he and his wife Sara and his in-laws Sandy Wycoff and Jeff Lang have constant discussions about what to place on this property. They receive suggestions from people on social media and he has been exploring ideas with Cyndi Williams of the chamber of commerce. But he emphasized they want to work with the town when determining what to place on the site’s two developable acres of upland.

If Handler made one thing perfectly clear this week, it was that he does not want to see condominiums built on the property. His mother-in-law strongly feels that any re-use of the land must allow for public access and enjoyment, he said.

“Everybody says condos or housing, but that’s not what we want,” Handler said. “Sandy wants a place thousands of people can enjoy, not just five or six condominium owners. And I love that, because this is where is spent my first 18 years growing up.”

That philosophy is already reflected in the clean-up project taking place there. The layout of the newly shaped contours of the land has a large meandering walking path cut into the slope just above the coastal bank. The property owners have gone through an extensive remediation project on the grounds, which served as an automobile junkyard and auto parts service facility from 1938 to 2015.

Those grounds were littered with discarded auto parts, and over the years heavy metals built up in the soil. A major focus of the remediation project included removal of lead and zinc that migrated and accumulated at the edge of the marsh. The lead came from leaded gasoline, and the zinc, from anti-knock additives. There was 850 square feet of marsh contaminated below the high tide line that had to be removed and salt marsh reparation required.

The project included removal of 1,650 square feet of non-indigenous phragmites reeds growing there and 450 feet of man-made coastal bank reconstructed in the wetlands and riverfront buffer zones. In all, 2,500 square feet of wetlands were impacted by the remediation.

On the upland portion of the property major excavation was conducted to remove small metal parts and other materials embedded in the ground over the years. The 3.14 acres have been resurfaced and the property now looks like a giant sand dune.

“Not a scoop of dirt was brought in. What you see here was on site,” Handler added.

David Crispin, the project engineer from BSC Group, Inc., the environmental engineering firm hired to oversee the project, was on site last week conducting the remediation testing.

“He said we are clean,” Handler said. Tests will continue to be conducted by BSC Group over the next three years. The water in the Allen Harbor inner basin has been tested and determined to be clean as well, he said.

Aesthetically, Handler said, he has been getting calls from neighbors thanking them for what they have done; soon the area will be seeded with native grasses, and by March it will be covered with green grass.

The Handler family had been trying to sell this property for several years, but because it was a junkyard no one wanted to touch it, Handler said. But for him and his family, the property has special meaning; he grew up there listening to baseball stories as a kid, and got paid a nickel for every tire he changed. Handler said he had a discussion with his wife and in-laws and all agreed to purchase the property and put the money into conducting the remediation project.

“It wasn’t as bad as we thought. Developers have been calling every week asking, once it’s remediated, do we want to sell it? No, we want to partner with the town,” Handler said.

He praised the way the conservation commission treated them during the remediation hearings. But a couple of outstanding issues remain, including the disposition of the two buildings left on the property. One is the 6,000-square-foot metal framed warehouse that sits adjacent to Route 28, and the other is the cinder block tire workshop building that sits crumbling 53 feet from the edge of the wetlands.

Handler said his attorney has instructed him to leave those buildings in place until they receive a definitive response from the town those structures have non-conforming protection because they sit on disturbed grounds. The tire workshop is within the 60-foot no disturb buffer zone to wetlands. The southeast corner of the larger warehouse along Route 28 is within 200 feet of Doane Creek, and could be regulated by the Riverfront Act.

Those buildings are in disrepair and should be taken down for safety purposes, Handler said, but they need to ensure that they have the right to rebuild in those locations before they make the decision to remove the aging structures. He was planning to meet with the conservation commission to discuss those issues this week.

The newly contoured site slopes downward toward the east side of the property, where Handler said parking for new development would be located and the higher upland side of the property would be where new development would be located. The idea is to keep development out of the floodplain, he said.

From the west side of the property the view looking south provides more than 180 degrees of marshland surrounding the inner Allen Harbor basin and extending out to the docking facilities in Allen Harbor.

“The future will arrive as soon as we come up with our plan of what to do on it.” Handler said. “We’re not going to sit on it. We want to get at it.”