Wellfleet will have a chance on Sept. 10 to make a real difference in the housing crisis. Articles 6, 7, and 8 on the special town meeting warrant are about the proposed purchase of Maurice’s Campground, the 21-acre parcel on Route 6 that is on the market and could become the site for urgently needed affordable units, if the messy details related to its 35 cesspools can be worked out.
But there are two other items related to affordable housing on the warrant, in Articles 16 and 18. These are both proposed changes to Wellfleet’s zoning bylaw, intended to make it easier to create moderately priced year-round dwellings in town. The median sale price of a house in Wellfleet is now over $800,000 — far beyond the ability of most people who work on the Outer Cape to afford.
Article 16 proposes the removal of restrictions on so-called cottage colonies that keep the cottages from being used as year-round homes (except in the Cape Cod National Seashore, where the rules would remain).
Select Board Chair Ryan Curley, who wrote the proposed bylaw change, argues that there are about 150 of these seasonal cottages in town that are not in the Seashore, and a significant number of them could become year-round homes at reasonable prices. “We need year-round housing,” says Curley. “Ten percent of our housing stock is restricted to seasonal. If someone wants to live in a cottage year-round, why would we tell them that is not desirable?”
It is noteworthy that this proposal — and the one in Article 18 to allow the building of affordable houses on smaller lots than the current minimum — came from the select board and not from the Wellfleet Planning Board, which is the body charged with the responsibility of proposing changes to the zoning bylaw. As Christine Legere reported last week, the planning board voted 4-3 not to recommend the cottage colony bylaw change, with Chair Gerry Parent and board member David Rowell predicting dire consequences if it were approved.
Among the objections to the proposal is one that is raised often about affordable housing — that our drinking water will be poisoned if seasonal cottages become year-round homes.
Curley points out that these cottages and their septic systems are already heavily used during the most crowded months, often with six or eight people squeezed into a small unit. Compare that intensity of use, he says, with having the same cottage lived in year-round by two or three people.
Curley has managed to light a fire under the creaky machinery of town governance. “We need to take action if we’re going to have a livable community,” he says.
Under Gerry Parent’s control (he has been chair for more than two decades), the Wellfleet Planning Board has consistently opposed the development of affordable housing, including accessory dwelling units (ADUs), making Wellfleet the Cape Cod town with the lowest percentage of affordable housing units.
Parent says he’s all for affordable housing and just wants it done right. But there’s nothing right about doing nothing, which is Gerry Parent’s indelible record on housing.