EASTHAM — The North Eastham Master Plan, which was created in 2022 to help guide the development of three parcels of town-owned land, will likely need some updates before any shovels hit the ground.
In large part, that is because the pandemic dramatically raised house prices on Cape Cod and made the need for affordable and middle-income housing much more acute.
Zoning in North Eastham is also being overhauled, and the town’s Watershed Management Plan is being finalized. Each affects what can ultimately be built at the 10.9-acre former T-Time driving range, the 3.5-acre Town Center Plaza, and the 2-acre Council on Aging property.
The town has hired the Environmental Partners Group to assess the possibility of a new roadway, parallel to Route 6, that could connect the T-Time property to the Town Center Plaza.
Given all this, the town is at least two years away from hiring a developer, said Town Administrator Jacqui Beebe. Once that goal gets closer, there will be new rounds of community input to help finalize the town’s goals at the properties, she said.
“As we get more information about what’s really possible, what the options are, and how much they might cost, then we’re going to have to do whole new rounds of reaching back out to the public,” Beebe said.
The First Round
The master plan that was published in December 2022 foresees a total of 82 units of housing: 40 at the T-Time parcel, 30 at the Town Center Plaza, and 12 at the Council on Aging. Planners relied on the town’s 2021 housing production plan to assess demand, which, in turn, relied largely on data from the 2019 American Community Survey.
Eastham’s affordable housing trust is set to publish a new housing production plan next month, however. The preliminary findings of that report show that Eastham’s median house price went from $520,000 in 2020 to $775,000 in October 2023 — a nearly 50-percent increase in less than four years.
Carolyn McPherson, chair of the trust, said that the demand for housing in Eastham has skyrocketed, especially following the pandemic.
“The numbers are chilling in terms of how hard it is to find housing in Eastham,” McPherson said. “It’s a whole different level of call-to-action than it was in 2019. We need more housing than there is in the conceptual plan, and I think there is an opportunity for more housing beyond what that plan shows.”
Joan Lockhart, a former member of the T-Time Committee and current chair of the Council on Aging Board, said that there is “definitely not enough housing” in the plan.
“Things have changed in the last four years,” Lockhart said. “Where are we now? In a housing crisis, with a capital C. I now believe that T-Time should be nothing but housing.”
Residents are divided on this issue. In the spring of 2021, the T-Time Committee conducted a survey to assess residents’ vision for that property. Of almost 2,000 respondents, 43 percent said housing was “not important” at T-Time; 39 percent said it was important.
Beyond housing, the master plan for T-Time includes a 25,000-square-foot community recreation center and 8,000 square feet of commercial space. The plan also called for 10,000 square feet of commercial space at Town Center Plaza.
To expand housing in North Eastham, the town’s zoning codes must be updated. This has been the central focus of those working on the project since the master plan was published.
An RFP for zoning consultants was sent out in June 2023. Town Planner Paul Lagg, the Eastham Residential Zoning Task Force, and consultants from Brovitz Community Planning and Dodson & Flinker Landscape Architecture & Planning have been working on new bylaws for spring town meeting.
If the residential zoning at T-Time were maintained as is, only 11 houses could be built there, Beebe said. With adjustments to zoning, increased residential density and mixed-use structures can be added.
The zoning amendments include a form-based code and a potential 40R Smart Growth Zoning Overlay, which the Independent reported in June.
A form-based code focuses on the look of a development rather than the uses that are allowed there. Emphasizing architectural consistency but being flexible about uses can help maintain local character, Lagg said.
The Smart Growth Overlay could help create compact mixed-income housing and generate state funds for the project.
Zoning is “boring, but absolutely essential,” Beebe said. The technical nature of the work does not demand much community input, which is why there has been a dearth of public updates since the master plan was published in December 2022, Beebe said.
Wastewater, Roads, Funding
The North Eastham Master Plan also relies on a long-discussed town wastewater system. Without it, the T-Time and Town Center Plaza parcels would have to be reconfigured to include undevelopable septic system leaching fields.
“Wastewater has to come first,” Beebe said.
The town finalized its Watershed Management Plan in October 2023 and is now awaiting feedback from the state Dept. of Environmental Protection. Beebe said that the town’s new wastewater system would be in its design phase until May 2025, and that construction will run from 2026 through 2028.
To assess the viability of a new roadway connecting T-Time to Town Center Plaza, the town hired the Environmental Partners Group last summer.
Lagg envisions a roadway that is “lower-traffic, more calm, and could serve local businesses,” although at this point a vehicular road, a shared-use path, or even a bike trail extension are all possibilities, he said.
Last week, Eastham issued an official request for a financial modeler for the North Eastham project, which a March 2023 presentation said could ultimately cost $64 million.
That consultant would assess available state incentives, public-private partnerships, and tax credits to fund the project. Much of the consulting work so far has been funded by a series of state grants, Beebe said.
These elements should all have converged by 2026, when the town could put out a request for a developer to make the North Eastham Master Plan into actual houses and buildings, Beebe said.
By that time, the original draft of the plan “could change quite a bit,” she added. “I don’t think our housing numbers, or any numbers, are fixed,” Beebe said.
In other words, housing needs may be changing rapidly in Eastham — but the town’s development plans are open to change as well.