Harwich town officials have known of Chris Wise’s plans to construct a 100-unit residential complex on 12.27 acres off Route 137 in East Harwich since July of last year, when the developer went before the affordable housing trust to discuss the concept. As the project has become more defined and Wise works toward shaping an application for a 40B comprehensive permit to build 75 market rate and 25 affordable housing units, opposition to the project has grown.
Wise stated that he wants to work with the community. A few weeks back he made a presentation to the housing committee, after which the committee issued preliminary support for the development. The Chronicle covered that presentation and received praise from committee chairman Art Bodin for the story.
With growing interest in the community relating to the development, including a petition in opposition bearing more than 650 signatures, selectmen a couple of weeks ago began assessing the impact such a development would have on the community. Although the details are still sketchy, some minds have already been made up. Last week Selectman Michael MacAskill said, “At least this member would like to vote in opposition.” MacAskill requested the board place the development on an agenda for discussion.
The affordable housing trust was scheduled to hear a presentation from Wise last Thursday. Selectmen agreed the board would discuss the development at this week's meeting. Selectman Ed McManus urged The Chronicle to publish a preview story notifying the public of the two sessions. The story was placed on the front page of the Harwich edition of The Chronicle last week.
But at Thursday’s affordable housing trust meeting, the Wise presentation was halted on the recommendation of Interim Town Administrator Joseph Powers, who said the material presented to the town was incomplete. Without a formal application to the town or Massachusetts Housing Partnership, no project exists, he said. “Parliamentary Procedures” prevent town boards and committees from any discussion, he asserted. In the trust meeting The Chronicle article was discussed, with Powers saying the paper's coverage “hinders” the public's ability to comment on the matter.
"We should be looking to give them many opportunities to weigh in rather than have them read it in the newspaper where they can't engage in dialogue,” he said. Selectman Donald Howell, the trust chairman, said stories about the project are "premature." Powers said online comments created "anxiety" over a project that has yet to exist. Both MacAskill and Howell have contributed to the online discussion.
Selectmen should not be pre-judging an issue not yet before the board, and their criticism of The Chronicle for publicizing a proposal that has been the subject of public meetings is out of line. Town officials may not understand the importance of informing their constituents about change coming to a neighborhood, but we do; it's our job. We will continue to keep townspeople informed as the Wise development proceeds.