Zoning Standards Sought for Cape Cod District

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November 12, 2009 by   - () Leave a Comment

Dennis, Mass., Town Planner Dan Fortier is hoping to begin a discussion about the future of the Old Wharf Road section of Dennisport. At the Nov. 19 Economic Development Committee (EDC) meeting, talk will center on the town’s 1973 Hotel Resort Bylaw. Fortier said earlier news reports of what he has in mind gave the impression he wants to push out the cottage colonies and RV parks.

“I envisioned an engaging discussion about the future direction for this area that would control what someone who might want to build a hotel could do and give legal status and future options to the (cottage and RV park) property owners,” Fortier said. “From the response I have gotten, I am now researching cabin and RV zoning.”

Fortier hopes to develop standards that would allow reinvestment in the properties now serving as cottage colonies and RV parks should the owners ever find their current use to be an economic disadvantage, according to Wicked Local Dennis, Yarmouth, Mass.

These seasonal establishments have existed in Dennisport for 80 years or longer. Their existence has been grandfathered since 1973. “Technically, they have to ask permission to sneeze because they’re non-conforming,” Fortier said. “In the eight years I’ve been here, no one has questioned whether the 1973 zoning decision was correct. It’s going to be a challenge to come up with zoning that provides both control and balance.”

The EDC’s goal is to ultimately recommend zoning changes to the planning board that anticipate future land use in the area. If a cottage colony or RV park is not the most lucrative use of the land, zoning changes would allow other uses.

Fortier foresees several possibilities:

  • The cottage and RV owners buying the property and continuing to operate it under its present use;
  • An outside entity buying the property and changing its use;
  • The present owner changing its use. “A hotel can happen today — they’re a ‘yes’ on the use table,” he said. “Right now it’s wide open, and the town has no control.”

In a worst-case scenario, Fortier said it’s possible for a property owner to file a Chapter 40 B plan, which is protected from local zoning, and construct clustered units of affordable housing that could block the water from public view.

The Dennisport Charrette raised the possibility that a niche be carved out to provide zoning status for cottages as part of the hotel-resort efforts. Fortier welcomes cottage, RV and property owners’ recommendations for zoning.

“There are clearly many issues that need to be addressed as we move forward,” Fortier said. “The proposal is not intended to kick people out of their current arrangements but to look to the future.”

A survey on the EDC and planning department blogs soliciting input on the future of the Old Wharf Road area was inundated with responses.

“Year-round and seasonal residents were all very supportive of our taking a step back in time and re-thinking these seasonal resorts,” Fortier said. “The outpouring of comments, from town historic preservationists to people with no ties whatsoever, will be used to shape whatever we do in this area.”

Although serious wastewater issues exist along the Dennisport shore, the Department of Environmental Protection has not yet ordered property owners to upgrade their septic systems or install wastewater treatment facilities. But that day will come, soon.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency considers the area at risk. “While (FEMA) has not expanded the flood zone yet, they believe it is inevitable that changes will occur that will affect this area in the future,” Fortier said. “In the meantime, nothing is in or out right now. I am sure we can all press ahead and develop a seasonal, Old Cape Cod resort district we can all be proud of.”

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