“Season” – An Over-Used, Under-Defined Term in the Dennis Zoning By-law

Last spring the Dennis Economic Development Committee was exploring the possibility of expanding the “off-season” access to the properties in the Seasonal Resort Community By-law. This proposal generated a significant discussion of the concept of “season” both for this zoning district and across town in general.

The Zoning By-law Study Committee asked me to pull together an accounting of how many times the term “season” or some derivative of it, is used in the Dennis Zoning By-law. I turns out the term is used in some form in seven different sections of the Zoning By-law, and is only defined/restricted in one of these. Needless to say, it leads to much confusion, and not just on a seasonal basis.

The term is first encountered in the District Intent portion of the by-law where the Resort Residential Zoning District is identified as being a place to provide sites for “seasonal resource oriented resorts.” There is no delineation as to which seasons or what resources are the focus.  Obviously, given the beach, the primary season is summer, but is that summer the calendar, meteorological, or the traditional Memorial Day to Labor Day one? And, what of the shoulder seasons which are so important to area businesses? And, do we really want to deny access to our waterfront businesses during the Holiday Season?

Compounding the term seasonal in the Resort Residential District Intent is the use of the term “non-seasonal” in the Industrial Zone District Intent. In this section “non-seasonal” is qualified with the term “principally.” This is important as such “seasonal” enterprises as lawn care companies and asphalt companies are limited to the Industrial Zone. It is also important in that Section 3 related to parking allows “off-season” boat storage on properties allowing outside storage. Given we do not define “season” for these districts, we have no defined concept of “off-season” either.

The larger problem with a lack of a clear determination of what is the intended time period of the term season when it comes to cottage colonies.  Cottage colonies are, by definition in the Dennis Zoning By-law, “seasonal”. “Season” in this case is not only defined in the eye of the beholder, but changes over times.

Traveling in the “way back machine” we learn that these cottage colonies were originally tourist camps which sprung up through-out the town. At their creation, “summer” was far more restricted for most people and extended between the last day of school in June and the return to school in September.  As the population aged and kids grew up, the season expanded into the shoulder time periods beyond these dates.  However, as most nearly all these cottages were without heat, being here in early May or October was hardly likely or comfortable.

The lack of definition of the “season” in the Zoning By-law has led to the individual property owners to define their own “season”. These definitions were created to ensure compliance with the Zoning By-law if questioned, but to also maximize the availability of the properties to those wishing to visit the Cape. The predominant “season” in Cottage Colony Master Deeds have come to be defined as beginning March 15th (just before the first day of Spring) and lasting until November 30th (a few weeks before the first day of Winter). Whether we like it or not, the end user has defined the term “season” in the Dennis Zoning By-law rather than the other way around.

Similarly, while the Zoning By-law establishes that these are seasonal units, the by-law does not establish the appropriate level of “off-season” access.  While it might be assumed that “seasonal” would mean no access in the “off-season,” these Master Deeds do not take that same approach. About half the Master Deeds reviewed do not restrict “off-season” access. One leaves the decision to turn off heat and water in the “off-season” to the cottage owner.

The Seasonal Resort Community Zoning District is the only portion of the Dennis Zoning By-law to define the concept of “season” and to also tackle the issue of “off-season” access.  The “season” is shorter than the one that has become generally accepted elsewhere in town.  “Off-season” accessibility is also defined and restricted in the by-law in the Seasonal Resort Community District.

So, the Zoning By-law Study Committee will start to discuss these issues in October. I have some ideas for them to consider which I will write about in my next post on this subject.




One thought on ““Season” – An Over-Used, Under-Defined Term in the Dennis Zoning By-law

  1. Pingback: “Season” – An Over-Used, Under-Defined Term in the Dennis Zoning By-law: Recommendations « Town of Dennis, MA Planning Dept. Weblog

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