Safety And Scenery Jostle For Position In Proposed Housing Development

By: Ed Maroney

Pennrose LLC’s proposed housing development off West Road, which is at right. PENNROSE LLC GRAPHIC

ORLEANS Pennrose LLC’s plan to create 62 units of mixed income and affordable housing at the former Cape Cod Five operations center underwent an informal review by the site plan review committee Dec. 16. There were compliments for the effort but some concerns as well.

“This is an awesome project, very much welcomed by the fire department,” said Fire Inspector Greg Baker. “We’re looking forward to a large community and working with everybody on the project.” It appears, though, that getting rescue equipment around the site and reaching all floors of the multi-story main buildings are problematic given the current concept plan.

“We did have limited access to that building when it was first built,” Baker said. “Unfortunately, with green space added and gardens (in the plan), access has gotten worse. The tower (truck) we have is limited on reach. If there was ever a tragic event there, even though it’s sprinkled, there are a lot of situations where we’d have to rescue people from windows. The access to the front has a lot of green space. Is there any way we could work out a way to make the paths I see sturdy enough, wide enough to drive on?”

Earlier in the meeting, landscape architect Michelle Crowley of Boston’s Crowley Cottrell, LLC, described “a very preliminary landscape plan” that offers significant green amenities throughout the site. “We would plant trees in behind the town houses,” she said. “There would be mulched dirt trails in the nearby woodland, and a small terrace for entertaining. As we move closer into the site, there’s a playground at the base of the hill and community gardens at the top of the slope… A stone dust path wraps around the property. We want people to get outside and walk and enjoy their property. This is their backyard. There’s an opportunity to walk around the whole property. Inside the courtyard for the new addition and the old bank, we’ve done a larger terrace, more gathering space, garden space with trees. It can feel homey. It collects all the different paths to the main front door.”

Baker was concerned that some of the trees at the main entrance could interfere with rescue operations. “Unfortunately, if we have to pick someone from a window, we couldn’t do that,” he said. Crowley said she’d take that into consideration.

Baker said he had hoped to see an access road for fire vehicles around the rear of the building, which in the concept plan shows a narrower walking path. “We were looking for some sort of hardened road or path that would be like 14 feet wide to accommodate that,” he said. Joe Henderson, senior project engineer with Horsley Witten Group, Inc., suggested using reinforced grass pavers, but Baker said they “tend to shift and a couple years down the road they break down.”

“It sounds like you would need to get around the back of the building for firefighting purposes potentially,” Henderson said. “We’ll have to think about that from our end.”

Concerns about parking were voiced by Planning and Community Development Director George Meservey, who noted that seven parking spaces in front of the first group of town homes required backing into incoming traffic from the boulevard entrance and making a U turn to leave the site. He admitted he was “not sure what can be done” given the limited space. “We really want to try to keep that boulevard there,” Pennrose Regional Vice President Charlie Adams said. “It’s a great amenity.”

Looking at overall parking, Meservey said “72 regular parking spaces seems thin to me for 62 units. One and a half is the minimum you try to strive for. We don’t want to be in the position where people who live here don’t have a place for a personal vehicle.” Yet, he said, “my only locations to look are where the fire department would like to put a fire lane. I don’t know if some consideration could get another half dozen or dozen spaces in here.”

The development is moving forward as a “friendly” Chapter 40B project, which streamlines the approval process with a comprehensive permit from the zoning board of appeals. Waivers will be sought for building height, density, number of units, and parking ratio.

The site plan review committee would like to see “a formal plan on this at some point that addresses the issues,” Meservey said. “I know you’re opening the hearing Jan. 20 with the ZBA, and I assume that won’t be one-and-done for such a significantly large project. The board of appeals will want to have approval from site plan review even on a comprehensive permit before issuing approval. Ultimately, this is just a recommendation.”