Commission Approves Building Removal On Handler Property

By: William F. Galvin

The conservation commission gave its approval to a request to remove a cinder block building in that is in disrepair on the former Handler’s Auto Parts property. The building is located 50 feet inside the wetland buffer zone along the inner Allen Harbor basin. Jeff Handler was before the commission seeking to reserve the right to rebuild at the location. WILLIAM F. GALVIN PHOTO

HARWICH — The outbuilding on the former Handler’s Auto Parts property sits on the 50-foot no-build buffer zone line established under wetland protection laws. While the conservation commission last week approved its removal, the foundation slabs will remain to allow potential future development.

Jeff Handler was before the commission to provide an update of the remediation project taking place on the 3.14-acre parcel adjacent to the inner Allen Harbor basin marsh and to seek approval to remove the cinder block structure that once served as a metal shop.

The cinder block structure is caving in on one side, and Handler said he is concerned about the safety of the structure. He also said the building poses a threat as final grading is being done on the property, since the building could fall down while the work is being done.

The front of the structure rests on the edge of an embankment to a lower pathway established on the property. Seeding of the property is expected to begin very shortly, Handler said. He was requesting the commission’s approval to remove the structure and retain its two foundation slabs.

“Obviously, we want to reserve our right to rebuild on these two foundation pads,” Handler said. “The structure is very old and in rough shape.”

The first phase of the project was to remediate conditions relating to the long-term auto parts junkyard that previously operated on the property, building plans coming in a later phase.

Commission member John Ketchum wanted to know how long the building has existed. Handler said it was built in 1938 by his grandfather, who used it for cutting metal he sold. Ketchum recommended the grounds beneath the foundation slabs be tested for contamination if project engineers have not already done so.

Conservation Administrator Amy Usowski recommended removal of the building. Commission member Carolyn O’Leary asked why Handler was not asking to remove everything, including the foundation slabs. Handler explained the 50-foot buffer zone boundary cuts the building in half and he would like to reserve the right to build at that location. Usowski said if a structure predates passage of the Wetlands Protection Act in 1978 the footprint could be used for new construction.

“That’s how other cases have gone,” Usowski said. “The conservation commission has generally allowed construction on the footprint in the past. That’s as far as I’ll go.”

Selectman Chairman Larry Ballantine, the commission liaison, asked if the foundation needs to be there.

“I don’t have a golden rule on how long a building can be gone,” Usowski said. “Applicants develop a risk if six months after it's gone they try to build on it. We don’t grandfather after it’s gone. Maybe it’s something we should work on, but there is no regulation.”

Handler said he is not uncomfortable about leaving the building until a decision is made on future development, but added that there is an issue of safety with people working around it to complete the final grading.

Commission Chairman Brad Chase did not have a problem with leaving the foundation slabs; if Handler wants to remove it in the future, he can come back to the commission, he said. The commission approves the building's removal.