Cape Cod Town Rewriting Resort/RV Park Regs
Once the location of a shipyard and fish wharves, the cottage-RV colonies along Old Wharf Road in Dennis, Mass., have become a community now in its fifth generation of families that continue to return each summer for vacation.
The campgrounds date back to about 1910, according to the Dennis Historical Society. In a series of public hearings since last November, long-time residents of Chase's Ocean Grove, Curtis Pine Grove, Salt Air Village and Campers Haven RV Resort have recalled their experiences since the late 1930s, according to Cape Cod Today.
At issue is the future of the remaining 439 cottages and 213 RVs. None conform to zoning regulations adopted by the town in 1973. They give free rein to any hotel developer that wants to build in the area, according to Town Planner Daniel Fortier.
He told about 35 residents — considerably fewer than the more than 100 who two weeks ago jammed the West Dennis Expanded Schoolhouse for a hearing on the same topic — "Bylaw changes must be made now. The town has no control over hotels coming into Dennis. And since the last bylaw changes 37 years ago, there has been almost no consideration of the cottage colonies."
The area comprises about 80 acres divided into four properties.
The meeting Thursday morning enabled Fortier to bring the Dennis Economic Development Committee up to date on his investigation of the matter over a period of several months. He described public hearings held last November and two weeks ago with residents of the colonies and the results of two "quick" surveys of 200-plus residents via the Internet.
Fortier's surveys, the hearings, including one scheduled in early July, meetings with individual cottage and RV owners and his own studies have helped him to prepare a first draft of a seasonal resort proposal to be submitted to a future town meeting.
"Because these properties have been considered nonconforming since 1973, little reinvestment has been done to them," Fortier said. "Yet, cottage colonies are springing up all over the country.
"One in Westford, Mass., includes units starting at $179,000. They are dramatically different from those Dennis. So are RVs," he added. "They're no longer tin-can Winnebagos. The interiors compare favorably to rooms in top-grade hotels.
"So, shouldn't we be thinking of ways to invigorate the area to enhance the town's tax base?" Fortier asked. "This is particularly pertinent in view of our existing hotels becoming time-shares to survive, and, in the process, reducing tax revenues."
Committee members queried Fortier about elements of his draft of the zoning proposal at Thursday's meeting, expressing concern about its breadth. Robert David urged his colleagues to take the lead in putting the proposal together. "Even though natural resources, the different boards, health, appeals and the fire department need to be involved, we should lead the way," he proposed.
But Judy Demarco urged caution. "These cottages and RVs have a huge, huge economic impact on the town," she said. "That means involving all the bodies of government — health, safety, you name it — from the start in drafting a proper zoning proposal."
Regarding economic impact, Tom Moss, manager of Campers Haven RV Resort, told CapeCodToday.com, "No one has any idea how great an impact these colonies have on Dennis's economy. Campers Haven has more than 250 spaces. They are inhabited by couples, couples with children, couples with several children, seasonal campers, 90% of whom stay five weeks or more.
"Based on what I've spent since arriving April 20 on groceries, electricity, heat, personal expenses (he shared his checkbook), Campers Haven will contribute a minimum of $2.5 million to the town's economy between today and Oct. 20. You could easily extrapolate that out to nearly several million," he estimated.
Fortier's two quick surveys, completed on Wednesday evening, disclosed that 48% feel that cottage size should remain as is (half are less than 500 square feet in area). But the same percentage consider 1,200 square feet to be desirable.
"Funny, there isn't one of that size in town," he remarked. He said he is inclined to recommend living space of 900 square feet on two levels with a loft upstairs, in his draft.