February 12, 2001 I walked in to the Dennis Planning Office for the first time. As I arrived I knew we needed to tackle Dennisport and West Dennis Villages as, even during relatively good economic years, these two villages were not as vibrant as they had been. I also knew there was a grocery store proposed along Route 134 north of Route 6 which was of grave concern.
I had not expected to be dealing with Crowe’s Pasture, wind turbines, or hotels when I walked in. That is all part of the fun of this job, so many issues, so little time.
Looking back on the past ten years, I think we have had a lot of accomplishments. I think we are well poised to take advantage of the coming economic recovery and can benefit from all the hard work put in over the past decade by the many dedicated residents who have worked with me so far. Not to mention all of you I plan to drag into the process in the next ten or more years….
Cowe’s Pasture kind of jumped out at us in 2001 and tied many of us up for nearly three years. We described the area as our last unspoiled treasure back then, we have managed to keep it that way due to the dedication of all those who worked with us on the rezoning, both before and after the District of Critical Planning Concern designation. In addressing Crowe’s Pasture, we looked at what works in many other areas of the country. In fact, we borrowed heavily from Coastal Maine communities which have worked hard, under more favorable state planning guidelines, to protect their coastal areas. New Hampshire also provided significant basis for lot sizes as well, as they rely heavily on matching soil types to lot sizes. Looking closer to home, the view protection and erosion control aspects of the zoning came from the Connecticut River Valley where communities have worked hard to protect the mountain viewsheds.
Shortly before I arrived the Board of Appeals had rejected the original Northside Senior Housing proposal or a variety of reasons. On appeal to the Housing Appeals Committee one of these issues stuck and the Board of Appeals won that case. Perhaps a short-lived victory as the site was redesigned and came back to the Board in a fashion that would eventually pass muster with the same Housing Appeals Committee. Out of this project, however, came a major recognition by town boards – the town would be better off putting together its own affordable housing by-law. With the assistance of the, then, Local Housing Partnership we crafted a zoning by-law that has become known as the Dennis answer to Chapter 40B. This by-law provides for density relief for housing proposals that meet town goals for affordable housing. The by-law promotes projects that are much more in scale with the neighborhood the proposal is located in that traditional Chapter 40B, and has become recognized as a model for other communities by several state agencies.
Dennisport Village Center
Before I had ever arrived here, I had reviewed the basic needs of the town. A visit to the village back a decade ago found “antique” stores with no set hours, a carpet store in the center of downtown, and, really, very little that would attract people to return day after day to the village. Business people and landowners in the village all shared equal frustration that there was little option available to them. In fact several reported being told that the town already had done all it could for the village. I took this village as one of my biggest challenges.
I essentially asked the business and landowners what they wanted to see, at first they stated this in terms of what existing zoning limited them to. I suggested we thought of the area as a blank slate, one we were starting over with. Resoundingly, both within the village and the rest of town, the answer was “we want what Dennisport once was back.” We then set out over a multi-year process to craft zoning that would accommodate this vision. Unfortunately, just as we got the zoning into place, the economy, nationwide collapsed. We have some strong glimmers of hope, local businesses are moving into the village and outside money is investing in the buildings that are there. Soon we will see Dennisport return to its former glory. Remember though, as I cautioned while we were tackling this zoning, we let Dennisport flail in the wind with incompatible zoning for 30 years, it could take that many to undo everything that was done wrong in 1973.
Dennisport Village Center Recognized As A Smart Growth Plan By Governor Romney
West Dennis was not quite in the condition of Dennisport in 2001, but it was heading in that direction. Again, it was the victim of inappropriate zoning for a village area. It was a bit of a challenge to tackle this village as there was no central organization or person speaking for the village. Many of its issues were the same as Dennisport, but the area had its own uniqueness, tying a traditional village back to its waterfront. West Dennis turned into more than just one zoning district, establishing special zones for the waterfront as well as for the areas linking the waterfront back into the village.
To the east of the area is the traditional village, an area where we tried to match the mixed use village characteristics of Dennisport. To the west is the waterfront and the Dennis Gateway. Here, we downzoned the park and the adjacent land across Route 28 from the park. We also recognized the active marine oriented uses in this area, creating a zoning district that matched this location as a possible place for visitors to West Dennis to stay when they came to town.
For the past several years we have worked on a clean energy strategy for the town. Joint efforts by the Alternative Energy Committee and Economic Development Committee has led to strategies to promote both the use of clean energy strategies in town and the actual manufacturing of these systems locally as well. We have made it easy for small scale facilities, such as at the Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority to be constructed in our Industrial Zone, while maintaining regulatory control over larger systems. We looked to promoting the implementation of large scale solar facilities on appropriate sites and allow for the manufacturing of bio-diesel locally.
Cottage Colonies and Hotels
More recently we have focused our attention on the needs of our tourism industry. For several years the Economic Development Committee worked on issues related to our hotel stock. As the Committee was preparing to bring a proposal to Town Meeting, we learned that one significant portion of the summer population felt over-looked. In an intensive 12 month effort we worked with cottage and recreational vehicle owners and the land owners of these sites to address the issues regarding these areas, the zoning history, and, quite radically, proposed to overturn zoning decisions made nearly 40years ago ushering a new era for the Dennis cottage colonies. This past November, Town Meeting endorsed these efforts to improve the conditions of our tourist economy.
There is still so much to be done. We have a Design Review Panel on the books which has not functioned in over two decades. There are many who feel that this panel should be reinvigorated. Given the number of areas we have looked to make it more economical for reinvestment to occur – and have taken control of this investment by Special Permit authority of the Planning Board, there are clearly opportunities for such a Panel to be put into place, and have more than just an advisory role that was ignored in the past.
Firm design guidelines have been put into place in the Dennsiport Village Center. We need to complete these same guidelines in West Dennis and the Hotel Resort Areas.
We still have zoning along Route 6A that neither reinforces the land use patterns that exist, nor promote its continued existence. We need to revisit the Cultural Arts District along Route 6A in Dennis Village, look at setbacks and other land use issues that work against reinforcing the village that exists today.
We need to continue to address appropriate scale of development, consider the ramifications of zoning that promotes commercial development in a single, large structure over the use of multiple structures to serve the same floor space. Our zoning promotes big box over a village setting, we need to decide if that is what we want.
We need to discuss the Exit 9 area. The area between Route 134 and the Harwich Line constitutes the largest development area in Dennis in private hands. The zoning could allow the entire area to be used for commercial, retail purposes. The existing zoning of the GC-III and Industrial area here needs to be reconsidered. We need to ensure that appropriate portions of our industrial lands remain available for contractors and other manufacturing opportunities. At the same time, we need to think about what people first see when they arrive in Dennis.
There are so many more challenges facing us, the next ten or twenty years are going to fly by. Together we have accomplished a lot so far, we still have a long way to go. One thing for sure, you will continue to be a big part of everything we accomplish.