Town Proposes Purchase Of W. Harwich Baptist Church, Will Require Special Town Meeting Vote

By: William F. Galvin

Topics: Housing and homelessness , Wastewater treatment , Municipal Finance

The special town meeting warrant set for Oct. 18 contains an article seeking to acquire the West Harwich Baptist Church. WILLIAM F. GALVIN PHOTO

HARWICH – Voters will be asked in the Oct. 18 special town meeting to authorize selectmen to acquire the West Harwich Baptist Church property. Town officials say the 1.56 acre parcel could be used for sewering needs, workforce housing and cemetery purposes.

Selectmen have agreed to place the article in the special town meeting warrant, but they took no action last week on a recommendation to accept and support the measure. Selectmen are scheduled to complete votes on recommendation on the eight article warrant on Sept. 19.

Town Administrator Joseph Powers told selectmen the article was added so the water/wastewater department can move forward with its plans for the installation of the dry pipe sewer project along Route 28 in West Harwich before the Massachusetts Department of Transportation begins proposed highway improvements, including a new road surface, from the Herring River Bridge to the Dennis town line.

The town wants to have the dry pipe system installed as part of the highway improvement project. MassDOT does not allow infrastructure installation projects on newly surfaced state highways for five years.

A portion of the church parcel would likely be used to install a sewer pumping station.

The 1.56-acre parcel upon which the former Baptist Church is located also includes a parking lot and the historic Baptist Church cemetery to the rear of the property. The church owns the cemetery, which takes up two-thirds of the property, but the town maintains it. The church property was placed on the market two years ago; The Griffin Realty Group in Osterville listed the property for sale at $749,900. The church was constructed in 1880.

The West Harwich Baptist Church is the jewel of Captain’s Row,” Planning Board Chairman Duncan Berry said when the church was placed on the market, referring to the stretch of Route 28 in West Harwich lined with sea captains’ homes built in the mid-1800s.

The church is owned by First Baptist Meetinghouse, a/k/a First Baptist Church.

Powers said the likely plan is to take the property by eminent domain, but the actual cost of the taking has yet to be established. The article provides for the transfer or borrowing of funds for the acquisition. The town might be able to use the $765,500 value established by the assessing department for the purchase price, he said.

Powers said the article has been vetted and approved by town counsel. It would authorize selectmen to acquire the parcel, which includes the church, located at 62 Route 28, “for housing, cemetery and sewer purposes, and including the purpose of conveyance.” The article would also authorize selectmen to convey a portion of the parcel for the development of workforce or other housing, and would further authorize the board to retain a historic preservation restriction on the facade of the church building along with a restriction ensuring its use for housing.

Water/Wastewater Superintendent Dan Pelletier said the land is needed for a pump station for the sewering project along Route 28 in West Harwich. Initially, Pelletier said, officials were looking to place a pump station closer to the Herring River Bridge, but there were no locations suitable in the area. The pump station would be 10 or 12 by 16 feet, Pelletier estimated.

Article one in the warrant seeks acquisition of property interests and the appropriation of funds for the Route 28 dry sewer project, and for phase three of the town’s wastewater project in East Harwich. Pelletier said primary pump station locations have been identified for which the town must obtain property easements. The language in article one will also allow the town to pursue backup locations, including 62 Route 28 and 52 Route 28, on the west side of Depot Road.

It’s been an uphill battle trying to site these pump stations,” said Pelletier. “The town does have other interests beyond just sewering for the 62 Route 28 property.”