WELLFLEET — On a cloudy August morning, the three members of the town’s bylaw committee gathered in the far corner of the back parking lot of the Adult Community Center to discuss the 10 proposed bylaws on the warrant for a Sept. 18 special town meeting.
Though their odd meeting spot seemed designed to locate the discussion out of public view, that’s not why they gathered there, according to committee member Dawn Rickman. The group’s parking lot meetings started during the pandemic, she said, adding, “I refuse to meet on Zoom.” Now they’re a tradition.
The committee, established in 1982, is tasked with making recommendations to town meeting on proposed bylaw changes. The current members, Rickman, Liz Stansell, and Sam Pickard, are determined not to let ambiguities or sloppy grammar slip past them.
Not that voters always heed their advice. “The past few years, they go to town meeting with these articles, we’ve voted no, and then when it gets to the floor, the voters say ‘yes,’ ” Rickman said.
Seated in beach chairs in a circle on the asphalt on Aug. 7, the group swiftly decided not to recommend four of the 10 proposals.
Meaning, Process, Grammar
“My opinion is all of these should be indefinitely postponed,” Rickman said after introducing Article 7, on inclusionary zoning. “I’m not even sure what it is.”
Inclusionary zoning requires developers to reserve some units in new developments to be rented or sold affordably. Provincetown and Eastham have adopted such bylaws. Wellfleet’s would apply to developments that result in three or more units on a property, including new construction, change in use, or alteration of existing structures. One-sixth of all new units would need to be deed-restricted affordable units.
The bylaw would allow developers to opt out of the requirement by donating money or land to the Wellfleet Affordable Housing Trust.
The bylaw committee’s main qualm was that it had not gone to the planning board for review before the warrant closed on Aug. 15. That review was scheduled for Aug. 23.
Since the committee’s meeting was before the planning board’s, the group voted not to recommend the bylaw. “One of the things that drives us is ‘Did it get appropriate review?’ ” Stansell said.
Clarity was an issue: “There should be a user-friendly explanation of what the heck this is,” said Stansell. She also questioned the proposal’s origin: “It totally smacks of being picked up out of somebody else’s legislation.”
The committee also voted not to recommend Article 8, which would change the definition of a cottage colony, lowering the minimum unit size from 550 to 300 square feet and increasing the maximum from 768 to 800. According to the warrant, the changes would bring pre-existing cottage colonies into compliance. At Brownies Cabins, for example, 9 of 13 cottages are under 550 square feet, according to the warrant.
Rickman questioned the proposed minimum: “What could be in that? A bed? Is there a toilet?” She also questioned the maximum: “What if you have 805 square feet, what is it called? A house?”
The committee rejected two of three tree-related bylaws. These would add further exemptions to the prohibition on cutting timber in the National Seashore, for the removal of invasive plants and as part of a Community Wildfire Protection Plan.
Another amendment would prohibit, except with a special permit, the cutting or trimming of notable trees, defined as native trees with a girth of 120 or more inches or trees listed as endangered, threatened, or of special concern by Mass Wildlife’s Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program.
Both amendments, the committee found, were filled with grammatical errors. “This was not well looked through,” Rickman said.
Article 9, to amend the intensity of use of multi-family dwellings, won the committee’s endorsement. It would eliminate the requirement to have 8,000 square feet of additional land for every dwelling unit added after the first in a given development. It would apply only to housing in the commercial district. The intent “is to provide a greater opportunity for diversity in Wellfleet’s housing stock.”
A proposal banning the sale of “nips” proved more divisive. Rickman and Stansell voted to recommend it, while Pickard voted no. He said he wanted to see a limit on anti-plastic rules: “I’m putting my foot down,” adding, “I’m not saying nips are a good thing.”
The committee also voted to recommend two animal control bylaw amendments, including one that would require dog owners to register dogs within 30 days of adoption and would allow dogs in town cemeteries. It would also prohibit owners from leaving their pets unattended in vehicles. Another amendment would prohibit dogs from lifeguarded portions of town-owned beaches and freshwater ponds between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. during the summer.
A zoning enforcement penalty amendment also got committee support. It would increase the fee for infractions from $50 to $300 per day. According to the warrant article, $300 is the maximum allowed under state law: “Enforcing zoning is expensive, and this provides both a means to recapture some of the costs based on the level of the infraction as well as providing the commissioner with additional leverage to address zoning infractions.”
Wellfleet’s special town meeting is set for Monday, Sept. 18 at 6 p.m. at the Wellfleet Elementary School. Care for children under three will be provided onsite; to sign up for it, use the form posted on the town website.