EASTHAM — After a rain delay of one hour, Saturday’s annual town meeting overwhelmingly approved spending $3,080,000 to acquire the Town Center Plaza in North Eastham. The vote was 293 to 34.
That amount includes the $2.8 million purchase price and an additional $280,000 (10 percent) for first-year improvements and incidental costs.
“Right now, we’re a town sitting in the grandstand of the Orleans to Provincetown speedway,” said select board chair Art Autorino. “People pass through. They don’t stop. We’re not an end destination. This is a critical piece of property enabling us to change that. It really gives us the opportunity to shape the character of that district.”
The 3.536-acre property at 4550 Route 6 includes a 10,381-square-foot five-unit strip mall currently occupied by Nauset Ice Cream, Town Center Liquors, and the Royal Thai and Local Break restaurants (a fifth unit is vacant); a 1,511-square-foot building currently occupied by ARTichoke Boutique; and a 672-square-foot office building occupied by Foran Real Estate.
The town is expected to offer existing tenants at least two-year leases and has indicated it would work with tenants in developing plans for the property.
Autorino noted that the property’s location makes it “extremely attractive” to developers. “And what would a developer do?” he asked. “The first thing — they would do is clear the whole area. That is six businesses there that we would lose.”
The town had worked with the Cape Cod Commission over the last six years to redistrict the area, noted Autorino. “When the threat of Dollar General [an unsuccessful 2017 proposal to build a 9,100-square-foot retail store on 2.8 acres at 4615 Route 6] came in, we recognized how vulnerable as a town we were to a developer coming in and doing basically anything they wanted with the property,” he said. “With all the work we’ve done — and we did in fact rezone the area — we are still at risk.”
The project would be combined with the nearby town-owned T-Time parcel to develop a comprehensive plan for the area. “Hopefully, a combination of retail, residential, and green space,” said Autorino. An earlier article approved by voters appropriates $50,000 from free cash to fund a T-Time master plan.
“The T-Time Committee, the town, the current businesses that are on that property, all of you would have multiple opportunities to participate in the project,” said Karen Strauss, chair of the T-Time Committee. “We would be able to develop something that would retain the small-town character of our community.”
Both the select board and finance committee had voted unanimously to recommend the purchase. Finance committee chair Jerry Cerasale said the annual cost to the town is expected to be about $150,000 ($250,000 estimated debt service less rental revenue) until the property is returned to the private sector.
“That includes the loss of tax revenue from the Town Center Plaza,” said Cerasale.
Paula Aschettino spoke against the purchase, citing traffic concerns, higher labor costs associated with state and town building projects, and future costs.
“We do have an identity,” said Aschettino. “We have been a rural community, interested in natural settings and the seashore and the bay beaches. We have the entrance to the entire end of the Cape coming in on our rotary. Anything that draws more people into this community is going to cause more traffic.”
Voters also approved, 291 to 30, an increase in the short-term rental tax from 4 to 6 percent. The increase is expected to generate about $300,000 in added revenue annually, which the select board has said would be used for support programs for residents.
“It’s the short-term rental houses that are bleeding our market of workforce housing and year-round housing,” said select board member Jamie Demetri. “This is the very place we should be seeking fiscal responsibility in enacting this additional 2 percent of revenue.”
Voters approved an amendment to remove the District G wellhouse in North Eastham as a site for potential solar development; the vote was 284 to 38. A similarly lopsided vote, 305 to 18, authorized the select board to enter long-term leases for the remaining two locations, the DPW facility and transfer station on Old Orchard Road and the town hall campus.
Water skiing hours on Great Pond will remain unchanged after a 160 to 82 vote on an amendment to strike a provision in the proposed boating bylaw changes that would have moved the start time from 7 to 10 a.m. The activity is already restricted to even-numbered days.
“We agree with the rest of the article,” said Jean Leyton, who offered the amendment. “It’s just that cutting back the time is one more cut to a recreational activity in town and Eastham is about recreation and recreation for all.”
The amended article passed 200 to 37, and included changes to the boating bylaw on freshwater ponds to restrict the operation of hydrofoils (motorized surfboards) to Great Pond only and limit motorboats and vessels on Great Pond to 50 hp. The limit for all other freshwater ponds is 3 hp.
Changes to the saltwater boating bylaws included establishing no wake zones and penalties for violations and passed 193 to 18.
Voters also authorized the select board to petition the General Court to allow the town to appropriate money to make permanent utility improvements to private ways, allowing those private utilities to be turned over to Eversource, and assess betterments to those home owners for the costs. The vote was 297 to 31.
The town has learned that 150 customers on 65 different roads have private utility lines. The issue came to the town’s attention when 20 residents of Thoreau Drive lost power and discovered their underground electric utility was privately owned. Eversource refused to repair it.
Voters approved the fiscal 2022 operating budget of $32,807,105, representing a 4.49-percent increase over 2021; the $1,576,500 capital budget; and lease purchase agreements for two ambulances ($118,420 annually for five years) and a Quint fire engine and ladder truck ($114,766 annually for 10 years). The ambulances normally have a five-year replacement cycle; the Quint has an expected service life of 25 years.