Some Thoughts on Crafting the Implementation Section

Implementing a Local Comprehensive Plan is the cornerstone of all the data accumulated in the sections which precede the final portion of the plan.  AND, it is the most critical public participation portion of the plan – most of the preceding sections being mostly cold facts about the town.

However, as Local Comprehensive Plans need to be updated regularly, it is important as part of discussing policies for the future, to review what was promised, and accomplished during the years between plans.

I had started this undertaking and found that it is more complicated than envisioned.  As the local plans on Cape Cod need to be connected to the Regional Policy Plan, and the Regional Policy Plan changes dramatically with every update, not every policy position taken by the town in 2002 matches a policy position we need to address in 2012. This has made my initial attempt to craft a section for public reaction very confusing.  I had hoped the section would be able to take the 2009 Regional Policy Plan Goals, Town Actions and Minimum Performance Standards, match them to our 2002 Plan Goals, Actions and Performance Standards, address what we had accomplished, and make recommendations for the future. Unfortunately, this was easier said, than done.

So, I am taking a new approach.  The Implementation Section will look at our 2002 Plan Goals, Actions, Performance Standards and Accomplishments  separately from establishing recommendations for the future.  I think it will result in a cleaner document.  If you want to see what we set out to do 10 years ago, that will be easily accessible.  If you want to look at our agenda for the next 10 years, that too will have its own neat and accessible section.

Dennis Local Comprehensive Plan Update Community Survey

As part of the update to the 2002 Dennis Local Comprehensive Plan a snapshot of the views of residents and visitors to the town is important. The following link will bring you to a Survey that will help guide the development of the 2012 Dennis Local Comprehensive Plan. The Survey will complement other local surveys on Affordable Housing and Open Space that the town has conducted over the past couple years, and will be further supplemented with more specific questions in the future as the need arises. Please take 15 minutes and respond to the survey. Ask your friends and family members to also take some time to respond to the survey as well.

Paper copies will be made available, but we want to encourage electronic submittal for ease of data collection.

Click here to take the survey now. The survey was created with eSurveysPro.com survey software.

Draft Land Use Vision

The Dennis Planning Board has submitted a Draft Land Use Vision proposal to the Cape Cod Commission to initiate discussions between the town and the Commission on future land uses in the Town of Dennis.  This presentation walks you through the submittal and provides a discussion of each of the proposed areas on the map.

The Regional Policy Plan establishes several land use classifications from areas where resources should be protected to areas targeted for larger scale development.  In Dennis the areas targeted for resource protection are flood plains, water recharge areas and local historic districts.  All of these areas have already been identified by the town as needing extra protection and placing these on the map should not have a noticeable impact on land use patterns in Dennis.

In 2004 the Town of Dennis decided that the Dennisport Village Center needed special zoning to promote redevelopment that was in-line with the areas historic land use patterns.  Since that time we have been working with the Commission on methods to provide some relief from regional regulatory review of developments above 10,000 sf.  Placing this area on the map, while pursuing the path we are presently on, will reinforce to the region that the Dennisport Village Center is a locally and regionally significant economic center.

In 2007 the town rezoned West Dennis to create the West Dennis Village Center Zoning Districts.  These districts included creating a mixed use core, a waterfront recreational district, and reinforced the marine/tourist uses near the Bass River.  The area is similar to Dennisport in many ways.  Investment in West Dennis will require significantly more cost than to develop new areas.  Identifying this are as an economic area of local and regional importance and, in the future, working the the Cape Cod Commission on an appropriate regional regulatory scheme can encourage re-investment in this village in the same fashion envisioned for Dennisport.

In addition to these two recently adopted zoning districts the town is working on a number of proposals that will slowly be brought to Town Meeting.  By identifying these areas now as locally and regionally important areas, we will be engaging the Cape Cod Commission early in the process of developing new regulatory schemes.

The West Dennis area comprises the Lighthouse Inn and several parcels surrounding it. These parcels are used for a variety of commercial and seasonal uses and in most cases represent uses that are clearly inconsistent with the residential zoning district within which they are located. The area contains about 199 acres, however the single largest parcel within this district is the West Dennis Beach at 136 acres. The West Dennis Beach is included in this district to clear up some issues related to commercial activities requested to be operated on the beach that were inconsistent with the residential zoning. The rezoning allows the Beach Commission to entertain non-residential requests for use of town property, it does not require the Committee to allow such uses.

The Dennisport Study area is comprised of land parcels that are significantly below current zoning standards. Zoning limitations make it difficult for these parcels to be redeveloped as the costs for reconstruction and septic upgrades exceed potential hotel revenues. To meet these expenses, property owners have been converting hotel units to timeshare properties. While current zoning does not clearly authorize such conversions, they have been accomplished under the guise of creating hotels in time share form of ownership. It would seem appropriate to formalize a hotel/condo land use that specifically addresses these market changes. In approaching this concept, we should consider what intervals of ownership are appropriate and how much of a site may be owned during any particular time period. I am starting with a suggestion that we change the height limitations for hotel properties in this district to 4 ½ stories with an at-grade story (or portion there-of) for parking and the remainder for occupied space comprised of rooms, registration area, lobby, and other guest services. A mixed use structure would be restricted to no more than 30% of the ground floor level being used for accessory commercial purposes in this district. Other allowed and permitted residential, commercial and mixed use projects would be restricted to 2 ½ stories.

The area along Route 6A has a traditional New England character.  Unfortunately, the zoning for the area does not reinforce the land use patterns of the village.  The area is essentially developed “to the back of the sidewalk” while zoning requires as much as 75 foot setbacks.  This simple zoning provision could significantly harm the walk-ability of the village.  In addition, there is little in current zoning to reinforce the types of uses that make up the village.  Current zoning is very much a basic commercial district.  The idea for this area to continue to consider the possibility of creating a zoning district that will promote a symbiotic concentration or arts oriented uses in this village.

The South Dennis Economic Center is located adjacent to Exit 9 off of Route 6.  The area is zoned for commercial and industrial uses and presently represents strip suburban shopping center type development patterns.  The long term vision for this area is for it to transition to a mixed use area, with retail, office and residential uses within a walking type center.  The area represents a long term vision.  Present uses would not be forced out, but over time, 20 or 30 years, the area could transition as existing sites seek to modernize and replace structures and uses that become worn with time.

The Dennis Industrial District has lot sizes that allow the opportunity for significant development opportunities.  The Cape Cod Commission, in the Regional Policy Plan, has identified the need to improve the industrial climate on Cape Cod.  This proposal would seek to work within existing zoning to relax regional review thresholds in the Dennis Industrial District to attract new industrial uses.

The Cape Cod Commission regulatory review no longer extends to public projects.  However, in order to provide a complete long range vision for the town, it is important to recognize all development possibilities.  The area on Bob Crowell Road has been long viewed as an area where existing town facilities (i.e. the old DPW Buildings) should be reused.  Plans have circulated for years to have a new Recreation Center constructed in this area.  There have been ideas that, should we construct a Recreation Center, that a Senior Center might also be appropriate for this area.  In addition, the Affordable Housing Trust has suggested that additional housing could be situated in this area (an idea that also dates back many years).  All of these, and other concepts such as a new centralized Town Hall, make this an important area for future land use discussions.

Sesuit Harbor is currently located in a Residential Zoning District.  Back before 1973, marina uses were allowed by a Special Permit from the Board of Selectmen in Residential Zoning Districts.  When the zoning was revised in 1973 this issue was not addressed. The zoning of this area is one the town needs to address as part of the update to the Local Comprehensive Plan.  While there may not be much that would happen at the Sesuit Harbor Marina that would ordinarily trigger a regional review, many projects that could occur could trigger state environmental review – which is an automatic trigger for regional review.  Placing this area on the Land Use Vision Map, reinforces the importance of the marina both to the town and the region.

The final area we are discussing is one that does not have a neat fit into the Regional Policy Plan.  Agricultural uses were not provided any special mapped categories within the Regional Policy Plan or the Land Use Vision mapping criteria.  The most significant, regional, agricultural facility in Dennis is the Aquaculture Research Center (ARC).  This facility provides shellfish seed stock for most of the Northeast.  It is important both to the town, to the county and the state.  The area has been put into its own “economic center” for the Land Use Vision Map to recognize this importance.  The ultimate goal will be to craft local and regional regulatory schemes that promote and protect the agricultural use of this property for shellfish propagation.

A Power Point version of this proposal is found below:

Positive and Negative Things About Dennis

I was looking at how other communities approached their Local Comprehensive Plan updates in order to prepare a survey of residents and visitors.  I stumbled across the Amherst NH Master Plan website.  Two things jumped out at me.  They asked residents to take pictures of the Positive and Negative things they see around town.  Check out the links below.

Positive Things About Amherst NH

Negative Things About Amherst NH

If you see similar things you would like to identify about Dennis, snap a picture, stick in an email to me with a label of Positive or Negative Things About Dennis.

Regional Consistency

I have had a number of discussions on the Dennis Planning Department Blog about developing the Local Comprehensive Plan.  Among the discussions have been ones addressing outside forces we need to be aware of.  The two dominant forces are the Cape Cod Commission’s Regional Policy Plan and pending changes to the planning landscape due to the proposed Land Use Partnership Act.  During a Webinar last week with Secretary Greg Bialecki I asked about the possible divergence between the overall goals of preservation of Cape Cod (to keep it from becoming overdeveloped) that has been envisioned in the Cape Cod Commission Act and the Regional Policy Plan and the apparent full-speed ahead approach to development in the Land Use Partnership Act.  The Secretary recognized that the Cape had a working model, and that the Land Use Partnership Act may have to defer to the Commission’s Regional Policy Plan ideas for preservation and development over that proposed in the Land Use Partnership Act.

Dennis has taken a fairly balanced approach to preservation and development over the past decade.  We have preserved places in need of preservation such as MelPet Farm, Crowe’s Pasture, Sea View Park and Bass River Park to name a few.  We have created opportunities to reinvigorate our older villages in West Dennis and Dennisport.  We even have adopted a well-received affordable housing by-law which has increased available affordable housing units.

The targets of LUPA, designation of a residential district capable of adding to our year-round housing supply, through construction of new housing as it appears conversion of seasonal housing will not count, by slightly over 400 units in the next ten years is difficult to conceive.  Where would we find an area of 30 – 100 acres of land (4 to 12 units per acre) to accommodate this district?  How would we promote such an increase in new housing starts when the town barely issues 50 new building permits annually town-wide?  What other strategies would the town need to take to ensure town services are not deteriorated?  The 400 new units of year round housing also can only be accomplished through new construction, there would be no provisions to count conversion of seasonal housing to year-round as part of “new” year round housing.  In our town, the year round population could nearly double if all the seasonal housing were converted to year-round housing.

On the other hand, the Cape Cod Commission Regional Policy Plan would recognize the resources we have.  The Plan may call for restrictions in some areas where we may feel otherwise, but the Regional Policy Plan also recognizes that some areas should see reduced regulatory control.  The Regional Policy Plan does not include a requirement that we meet artificially set growth targets.  In fact, the Regional Policy Plan, even with all of its restrictions, is clearly more closely connected to the balanced growth approach Dennis has taken over the past decade than the stated objectives of the Land Use Partnership Act.

I believe, as we start to work on the Dennis Local Comprehensive Plan, we will need to seek a close alliance with the Regional Policy Plan.  I believe that there will be protections for the town in this approach.  We may have to surrender to the idea that some areas are Resource Protection Areas even if we do not fully agree with the concept.  Doing so will give us the benefit of Cape Cod Commission recognized growth areas – with the controls provided to the town through both the Commission Act and the Regional Policy Plan – as opposed to the wide open mandates of the Land Use Partnership Act.

In the Land Use Section of the Local Comprehensive Plan Blog I will start discussing the Land Use Vision Mapping Exercise of the Cape Cod Commission Regional Policy Plan and how those areas may be applied to the Town of Dennis.  This Land Use Vision Map will be created early in the process, to allow us to take advantage of Cape Cod Commission policy changes, but will be reviewed and revised as we work through the process over the next several years.

Let’s Start This Plan Update With Something Fun

A Local Comprehensive Plan is a guide for the future of a community.  As a means of finding out what people’s view of the future of Dennis may be, I would like to ask  people with children visiting this site to have their children submit a picture and short paragraph illustrating what they believe makes Dennis a “Great Place” or a “Lousy Place“.  This idea comes from the American Planning Association’s Kids and Community Program.  More information can be found on this concept here at the “City Gallery.”

I will post the art work and paragraphs on this site.  I will try to work many of these into the update of the Local Comprehensive Plan.

A few short guidelines, all entries need to be no larger than 8 1/2″ by 11″ (all we can scan here in Town Hall).  Electronic entries should be sent to my email address at dfortier(at)town.dennis.ma.us and should be in jpg or bmp format, other entries can be dropped off at town hall or mailed to LCP Artwork, Dennis Planning Department, P.O. Box 2060, South Dennis MA 02660.   The caption (paragraph) should not be more than 40 words.   While the original artwork belongs to you, by submitting your work you are agreeing to let the town use the picture and story on this website (only first names will be used with any submittals) and within the update to the Local Comprehensive Plan.