HARWICH — The conflict between commercial enterprises and quality of life for residents in Harwich Port continues to increase in volume. Last week selectmen put a temporary halt to the ad hoc noise containment committee looking at the issue in order to get better control of the volume control dial.
Selectman Michael MacAskill, who serves as the board’s liaison to the ad hoc committee, requested that the the committee be put on hold for a short time and for selectmen to provide more definitive directions for the committee.
The noise committee meetings have become a sounding board for people with complaints. It is not charged with addressing those issues.
“They’ve been put in a position of complaint department,” MacAskill said. “Complaints are piling up and the board of selectmen has not acted.”
“It’s unreasonable to ask a citizen volunteer board to get involved in enforcement actions,” agreed Selectman Donald Howell.
Halting committee activities for a short period will provide time for selectmen to look at the work the committee has done, MacAskill said. Selectmen need to get a snapshot of the situation and then give more direction and input to the committee, he said.
MacAskill said he talked with committee member Bob Cohn and “assured him we’re not burying the committee.”
“As a whole we don’t take actions as quickly as we should sometimes,” Selectmen chairman Larry Ballantine said. “We should take actions in a quicker fashion. We need to get our ducks in row and then have a full discussion.”
Annual liquor licenses are issued at the end of November, Interim Town Administrator Joseph Powers said, and season licenses are issued in March. But MacAskill said entertainment licenses do not have to be issued at those times. Selectmen agreed they should move quickly.
Harwich Port resident Joe Ganley admitted to making some of the noise in the ad hoc committee’s last meeting. He asked selectmen what the process is for raising complaints.
Ballantine recommended reporting to the police department. Ganley said he has done that a number of times. The noise committee is a temporary group and the complaints would come back to selectmen, Powers said, and the board would either direct him to hold a hearing or hold it themselves.
Selectman Stephen Ford said he has spoken with Ganley and Powers about the issues. “They’re frustrated,” Ford said of residents. “It’s turned into a situation where day-to-day life has been made very difficult.”
“You’re right, we should have addressed it more quickly,” MacAskill said. “We do need to find a way to show them they can co-exist with businesses. I hope we can address this so it’s satisfactory to everybody.”
Ganley wanted to know if he can testify in hearings; he said wanted to testify in hearings on complaints about The Port restaurant. Powers said would be willing to be cross-examined by selectmen, town counsel and the plaintiffs counsel.
There are two outstanding cases with restaurants in Harwich Port, at The Port and Embers, but they are related to COVID-19 and alcohol serving.
Harwich Port resident Bob Nickerson said the effort to address the noise issues started with his complaints in May 2019 and nothing has been accomplished since that time. MacAskill said that a tremendous amount of work was done by the ad hoc committee, which has to listened to both sides.
Residents would be notified when complaints are filed and entertainment license hearings are held relating to noise complaints, said Ballantine. The board voted to officially halt the ad hoc committee’s work for a brief period, and Ballantine said selectmen would act quickly on assessing the positions taken by the noise containment committee and providing future direction.