HARWICH – The local planning committee has been working for nearly a year assessing existing conditions in the community and reaching out to stakeholders to help shape a vision statement that will identify planning and land use goals.
Local Planning Committee Chair Joyce McIntyre and Sharon Rooney, principal planner with Tighe and Bond, Inc., the consultants retained to work on the town’s local comprehensive plan, provided a status report to the select board on Sept. 5. The project goals, Rooney said, include preparing a vision statement and developing a growth policy, providing an inventory and assessment of existing conditions, and identifying planning and land use goals.
Other plans, such as a capital facilities and infrastructure plan, open space and recreation plan, and a housing production plan, will be folded into the local comprehensive plan, said Rooney. The consultants are also working to update those plans on behalf of the town.
The committee has been working on a community engagement strategy that reaches people throughout the town with members attending housing forums, huddles and ad hoc groups such as the Harwich Community Organization, said McIntyre. The committee has held sessions with the town’s affordable housing advocate Brianna Nickerson, conservation administrator Amy Usowski, water/wastewater superintendent Dan Pelletier and Harwich Conservation Trust executive director Michael Lach.
Postcards have been distributed throughout the community asking three questions: What do you love most about Harwich? What are your biggest concerns about Harwich? Is there anything else you’d like to tell us? There are plans to conduct two community visioning workshops, and a larger survey will be distributed throughout the community in late October or early November.
The committee is looking for qualitative and quantitative data, according to McIntyre. There will be quantitative questions that have never been asked before, McIntyre said, and they will be drilling down on specifics about what Harwich wants for housing.
“It’s a record of community dialogue,” McIntyre said of the information being collected. “Our role is to distill it and come up with a long-term plan.”
What people love most about Harwich, she said, is the people. The small-town charm is ranked high, and water, beaches and social service offerings have received a lot of support, according to McIntyre. In response to concerns about the community, housing development and overdevelopment were cited, along with the need to protect the small-town charm, open space, and water.
The question asking “anything else you’d like to tell us” drew some interesting comments.
“The rural aspect of having a quiet home and safe place to start a family and enjoy your friends,” was one comment.
“People, small town caring/feeling, very good public schools for our kids, good fire/ambulance, police, library, cultural center, clean water, ponds and beaches, summer events like Harwich Port music, Mondays at the bandstand, and Thursdays at cultural center courtyard,” was another comment.
“I love this town,” said another respondent. “So appreciative (of) community center services and town nurse, they are such an important part of this community and help so many people.”
The 11-member committee was appointed about a year ago, and members are committed to a respectful open dialogue and will embrace candid commentary, said McIntyre. The members are representative of all sections of the town and have a lot of local history, she added.
She emphasized the need to get a town planner on board as the planning continues. Town Administrator Joseph Powers said an advertisement to fill the vacancy has been posted, but he further encouraged anyone who can help with headhunting to lend a hand.
Select Board member Julie Kavanagh encouraged the committee to engage families with children, adding “they are a huge piece of the future of Harwich.”
Select board member Jeffrey Handler, who served on the committee before being elected to the select board, praised the group for being thoughtful and purposeful in digging into the issues facing Harwich.
“We’re fortunate you are driving this bus for this town,” he said.
Resident Patrick Otton wanted to know how the plan would be implemented.
Rooney said once the plan is complete it will be presented to town meeting, likely in fall 2025, and if approved it will go to the Cape Cod Commission for endorsement. An implementation schedule will be developed, and an action plan will be included defining who is responsible for implementing various provisions. It is the responsibility of the town to take those actions, Rooney said