Planning Board Approves Schoolhouse Apartments

By: William F. Galvin

Topics: Housing and homelessness , Historic preservation

Improvements will soon be made to the historic West Harwich Schoolhouse. The planning board has approved special permits for 10 apartments on the property. WILLIAM F. GALVIN PHOTO

HARWICH – The planning board has unanimously approved permits for the historic West Harwich schoolhouse to be converted into seven one-bedroom apartments and for a second structure with three additional one-bedroom apartments to be built on the east side of the property.

There is one additional approval necessary before the project can move forward. Project proponent John Carey requested a 60-day period during which he will pursue approval of a stormwater management plan for the site. The board of selectmen is charged with approving the plan.

At the planning board’s Jan. 10 meeting, member Craig Chadwick asked if selectmen needed to approve a plan before his board could act. Planning and Community Development Director Paul Halkiotis said he believed the planning board could act, however the stormwater permit would have to be granted for the project to move forward.

Carey said the site was flat and the amount of asphalt presently there would be reduced in the project. The reduction almost makes the stormwater plan a moot point, Planning Board Chairman Duncan Berry said.

Attorney Bill Riley, representing Carey, said stormwater permitting is part of a federal plan. It applies to projects of an acre or more, and this project is less than an acre, he said. Selectman Julie Kavanagh said the stormwater plans the board has been approving have been for subdivisions. But she added that she expects the selectmen would seek an engineering review for this property.

Carey made his initial presentation to the planning board in December, at which he agreed to address some outstanding issues. He said Jan. 10 that he made revisions to lighting, landscaping, curbing, fencing and sidewalks.

Carey purchased the historic schoolhouse, built in 1871, from the town for $175,000 earlier in the year. The building had been sitting vacant for more than 20 years.

This is an interesting old building with a lot of character, and I understand why he is interested in restoring it, and putting it back into use,” said Halkiotis.

Carey’s plan is to put a full basement under the structure and raise the building a couple of feet. A dormer will be added to one side. There will be two apartments in the basement. The project will be done in two phases, he said, with the renovation performed in the schoolhouse initially and the second building constructed in the future. He said that his plan is to retain as much of the historic character of the schoolhouse as possible.

Planning board member Bill Stoltz wanted to know if Carey was still planning to place a solar array on the south roof of the structure.

“Some of us are old like myself,” Riley responded. “Sometimes we have trouble dealing with the future, climate change and economics. The end result of having solar panels on the roof is that it’s better for our grandchildren.”

Carey said he would be buying solar panels for the structure, and he also agreed to provide a brick facing along the exposed portion of the new foundation. While there had been issues raised about density and traffic by neighbors in the abuttting Pinewood Village complex at the initial hearing, there was no opposition at the Jan. 10 session. There were a few emails expressing concerns which would be part of the public record, said Halkiotis.

While he usually does not make overview comments on projects, Berry said the benefits “outweigh the risks by about five to one.” He defined the risk as the board setting a precedent for conditional approvals.

The upside [of the benefits] represents in an important way, a symbolic way, capital investment,” Berry said. “That is a risk that is being taken by the individual who is doing the work. Capital investment is important and telling. It shows confidence and commitment to a particular place.”

He added, “It’s housing stock, which is important, and it gets civic movement through this part of town. The other thing is it’s a great example of preservation at work. It’s doing something that is going to be part of a positive precedent. This is where we want the town to see the light. That housing stock, capital investment and preservation is a trifecta. We should be encouraging this. This could be a landmark thing, leveraging it in other villages.”

It’s a fantastic project; taking on a building that sat for I don’t know how many years,” Kavanagh said. “I’d like to see it move forward.”