Saturday, January 30, 2010

Planning Board Holds Informational Meeting

Will the Planning Board succeed in creating a morning event that draws Wellfleetians to discuss an issue of importance, one that involves several pages of explanation? Can the proposed bylaw changes for the R1 and R2 districts be summed up by a couple nuggets of truth? Why do only five members support the proposal?

These questions swirled through my head as I settled into a chair at the COA with fifty other people who care about Wellfleet, including many past and present Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals members, as well as two Selectmen. What I quickly realized was how complex the new bylaw will be – “challenging” is the word Gooz Draz used to describe the changes he was presenting. Revolutionary is another adjective that comes to mind. What I kept thinking, too, was the incredible amount of thought and energy that has gone into this initiative by a group of volunteers. Kudos to them for such dedication! Read a summary by Gooz here.

Organizers of the informational meeting set out to offer a first look at the bylaw while there’s still time for adjustment. Chair Barbara Gray explained the board’s desire for input. The goal is that everyone understand what the proposals are and what their implications might be. Dwight Esty reported the Non-Resident Taxpayers Association, involved through a survey, offers its support. Assistant Administrator Rex Peterson carefully recorded questions raised by members of the audience so town planners can consider them at a later date. A public meeting will be held shortly, for final feedback prior to Town Meeting.

A couple nuggets of truth? The Planning Board has come up with a proposal to preserve the “character” of Wellfleet. Other Cape towns are grappling with similar issues. Most Wellfleetians were distressed by the Blasch house, which brought scale to the forefront in an immediate way. Town Meeting embraced a new bylaw setting limits on construction within the National Seashore, but similar changes for the rest of Wellfleet may be more difficult to agree upon. Site Plan Review, which will add a layer of control to what exists already, is necessary if we want to prevent more McMansions.

While everyone present seemed to see such a bylaw as worthwhile, shaking up the status quo this way represents fundamental change that must be done right, if it is to be done at all. And, yes, a couple Planning Board members have not totally embraced the proposal. While I will refrain from sharing figures and definitions, which came at us fast and furious, here are a few memorable comments:

Denny O’Connell: “I like the general idea of what you’re trying to do, but a couple of the limits seem too tight.”

Gerry Parent: “I’m guilty. If I wanted to add a ten-foot square bathroom to my house on a 5-acre parcel, with 4000 site coverage …” (Under the new limits, a special permit would be required.)

Roger Putnam: “You can’t legislate taste.” (And, shouldn’t try.)

ZBA member: "It would be a big help for me. This is a big step forward."

Brent Harold: The bylaw proposal ”forces the town to think about this. It’s a mandate for modesty as an aesthetic standard.”

How do you feel about McMansions? If a new homeowner wants to tear down a 1000 sq. foot cottage on a small lot, should the town legislate on the scale of what can replace the original building? Has this issue been resolved were you live?