ORLEANS — Back in 2016, the town paid $500,000 for a property at 141 Portanimicut Rd. that included a beach, marshland, and a house. The purpose for the purchase was open space and recreation, but for a few years the house was used as a satellite natural resources office.
More recently, the 141 Portanimicut Rd. Task Force, appointed by the conservation commission, has been working on a land management plan for the 2.5-acre parcel. On Nov. 5, the task force voted 4-1 to recommend removal of the building on the property by demolition or otherwise. The commission will discuss the issue Dec. 1.
Task force member Suzanne Phillips was the lone vote against demolition. On Nov. 10, she shared her take with the shellfish and waterways advisory committee, which she chairs.
Shellfish and waterways, she said, “originally felt really strongly that we wanted to see the spot and the building continue if possible as a satellite harbormaster’s office. For various reasons, that didn’t work out. (Then we) came up with a number of activities, some involving shellfish and some waterways.” Phillips advocated for those uses, which included an upweller for growing shellfish, but said it became clear that the conservation commission did not have funds to maintain the building and that other town agencies or non-profits would have to step up. None did.
“There were also concerns about parking down there,” Phillips told her committee. “There just isn’t any. I may still write an explanation of why I think there should be further consideration by the conservation commission of some ways to use the building. If that doesn’t work, I still plan to argue and advocate as much as possible for parking, especially for our commercial guys who have grants down there and are getting kind of closed out.”
Another advocate for reuse of the building is Alan McClennen, who chairs the affordable housing trust board. He attended the Nov. 5 task force meeting, where, according to the minutes, Conservation Administrator John Jannell said he had reached out to Habitat for Humanity of Cape Cod but was told the group was not interested at that time. Allowing someone to reside on the property is a pre-existing use, Jannell said, but there would have to be a “nexus” to that use and the care of the property. There’s precedent for that, specifically a town employee who lives at the town-owned Sea Call Farm and helps manage the site.
“It concerns me that we are going to throw away a house,” McClennen told the affordable housing trust fund board Nov. 17. “I just wonder if we should ask the conservation commission that, before making the final decision on destroying this house, they ask the housing trust if we’re able to do something about it.” He suggested that the commission could license – not lease – the house to the trust, which would engage the Orleans Housing Authority to find a paying tenant. “There would be money to manage the house,” he said, “and the remainder could go to the conservation commission to help manage and improve that beach area.” McClennen said such an arrangement might even incorporate uses for the building’s lower floor sought by the shellfish and waterways advisory committee.
At the Nov. 5 task force meeting, according to minutes, several members noted that the property had been purchased for open space and recreation, not housing, and that the site was much smaller than Sea Call Farm. Also at the meeting, the minutes state, Phillips “agreed that this is not the best site for affordable housing. She does not think it would fit in with some of the other objectives. If the building can’t stay on site, she would prefer it moved rather than demolished.”
The Dec. 1 conservation commission meeting begins at 8:30 a.m.