Planning Board Favors Industrial Areas For Dorms

By: Ryan Bray

Topics: Orleans news , Affordable housing , Economic development

Planning board members believe that areas in town zoned for industrial use, such as on and around Lots Hollow Road, could be an ideal place to site dormitory housing. RYAN BRAY PHOTO

 

ORLEANS -- The planning board wants industrially zoned areas in town to be considered as possible locations for dormitory-style workforce housing.

The board believes that dormitory housing could be a way of creating more places to live for seasonal workers that local businesses depend on during the summer months. Businesses in Orleans and across the Cape and Islands were plagued this past summer by a lack of seasonal help, driven in part due to the unavailability of affordable housing units.

A zoning bylaw change is being explored that would allow for "congregate housing" of up to six people per unit and six units per structure. Presented with the idea, the town's zoning bylaw task force is recommending that dormitories be located in areas of the business district that are serviced by sewer.

George Meservey, the town's director of planning and community development, told the planning board Nov. 9 that the parameters recommended by the task force would make dormitories permissible downtown from the Brewster town line to the Eastham rotary. However, the industrial area would be excluded.

"That is not scheduled to have public sewer," Meservey said.

But planning board members voiced support for including industrial areas as part of their plan, noting their location away from residential homes.

"I personally think the industrial area should be included," board member Richard Hartmann said. "I think it's where we'll meet the least resistance...and perhaps you get better use of temporary land."

"You certainly would get less residential objection, neighborhood objection," added board chairman Chet Crabtree.

Meservey said that there are 95 acres of land in town zoned for industrial use, and that he doesn't anticipate that will be expanded. The land is located in the area of Lots Hollow Road near the town DPW headquarters.

Still, he agreed industrial areas could be an ideal location for a dormitory.

"In some ways, that's a nice place to tuck a dormitory," he said. "You don't have a lot of sensitive receptors."

Asked how much space might be needed to site a dormitory, Meservey said it's too soon to know exactly, but added there are competing economic interests for industrial land.

Board member Alice Thomason Van Oot asked if there are other areas of town apart from the industrial zone that might be favorable for siting dormitory housing.

"We're trying to build economic development," Van Oot said. "We don't want to do one thing that is going to jeopardize the other."

But finding other areas of town to locate a dormitory could prove difficult, Crabtree said. While the task force recommends areas of the business district on sewer, he said those areas are already in high demand.

"There's a lot of competition for that type of land."

A draft business survey was also discussed by the planning board Nov. 9 that will be sent to businesses to gauge their thoughts on the idea of creating dormitory units.

The survey will ask businesses what percentage of their summer workers need housing, what obstacles they faced finding workers last season, how long their summer season runs and how many workers they were short in 2021. Businesses will also be asked how much they would be willing to contribute toward the creation of dormitory housing. Meservey said he will work to send out a final version of the survey shortly.

Discussion was also given to who exactly a dormitory might serve if built. Citing workforce housing as a "regional issue," board member Chip Bechtold said the board might want to consider opening up eligibility for units beyond those who live and work in Orleans. Crabtree, meanwhile, expressed a preference for using any housing that might be built to serve local workers.

"I'd like to give preference to Orleans rather than solving other towns' problems," he said.

Email Ryan Bray at ryan@capecodchronicle.com