EASTHAM — Two derelict properties along Route 6 in the northern part of town, both considered eyesores for years, may soon be the subjects of development proposals, said their owner, businessman Bruce MacGregor of Brewster.
MacGregor, 71, bought the Atlantic Breeze Motel at 5780 State Highway for $500,000 in 2007. The motel was shut down in 2012, and its three buildings with 16 units have steadily deteriorated.
Then MacGregor acquired the former Nickerson Service Station at 4515 State Highway for $275,000 in a foreclosure auction in 2015. Not much has happened there either, other than the fire department ordering the building to be boarded up. Fire Chief Kent Farrenkopf said the underground fuel tanks were also removed.
This week, MacGregor told the Independent what he has planned for each site. He has a commercial tenant for the Nickerson property, which is about three-quarters of an acre, and he is hiring an architect to put together plans, he said. The gas station building, dating back to 1940, will be demolished, he said. While he wasn’t willing to fully tip his hand, MacGregor said he envisions a building with a “nostalgic” vibe.
“We’ll somewhat mimic what’s there, more or less,” he said. “But it won’t be the same use.”
At the same time, MacGregor is looking at workforce housing for the one-acre former Atlantic Breeze property. The existing buildings would be razed. “I don’t do much residential, but what I’m finding is, if you want to have employees, they have to have a place to live or they’re not going to stay,” he said. “Not a lot of people are doing it, so there’s a big need.”
Right on the bus route, the property is well located for the use, and already zoned residential.
MacGregor said, he is currently focused on moving his plan for the Nickerson property forward. He will then turn his attention to the Atlantic Breeze site, he said.
A Special Designation
Several developers on that stretch of Route 6 are facing challenges created by a zoning designation recently approved by the Cape Cod Commission and the Barnstable County Assembly of Delegates. The new Eastham Corridor Special District runs from Old Orchard Road to the Eastham-Wellfleet town line.
The special district is divided into six sub-districts that transition from a core commercial area at the intersection of Brackett Road and Route 6 to less intensive uses leading away from the core.
Town meeting then approved accompanying regulations, which are more restrictive than what was previously in place. Setbacks are tighter and allowed curb cuts fewer. Limits are placed on high traffic-generating uses.
Those regulations come into play when a property owner makes major changes. Lauren Barker, the town’s economic development planner, said several property owners want to make improvements but don’t want to lose the nonconforming status connected to existing buildings. They are particularly interested in maintaining their setbacks from Route 6, since most of the lots are small and shallow, Barker said.
“We’re trying to find ways to help property owners navigate,” Barker said. “In terms of how the compliance process works, they probably want to have a plan before tearing a building down.”
It takes time, Barker said, and sometimes nostalgia makes change more difficult. “What I hear is people concerned about the character of the community changing too much,” she said. “We’re aware of that. The good news is we have a lot of property owners and developers willing to work with us, and they have some really good ideas.”
Town officials have tools for cracking down on owners of derelict properties. For example, a year ago the Yarmouth building commissioner ordered the owner of the shuttered Tasty Buffet restaurant on Route 28 to tear the building down, labeling it “a dangerous building and attractive nuisance.”
Barker prefers a gentler touch. “There are many tools towns can employ, but you’re stuck with the carrot or the stick approach,” she said. “It’s really much better if you can go with the carrot, and work with the property owners. It takes more time, but it’s a better result.”
The Eastham Planning Dept. has been working with MacGregor and his daughter, Molly MacGregor of Chatham.
Meanwhile both properties have remained challenges for the town. Due to the condition of the buildings, the fire department has marked the unsafe structures with large red Xs, a universal sign warning firefighters not to enter.
“We won’t go in unless there is some indication that someone is inside,” Chief Farrenkopf said. “Normally firefighters go into a building when putting fires out. We’re not going to just let it burn. We’ll handle it from outside.”
The town also cracked down on MacGregor in 2012, when the health department determined that occupied units at the Atlantic Breeze did not meet minimum standards for human habitation, lacking drinking water and violating electrical requirements and other regulations.
When inspectors returned in 2013, no one was living at the motel, and it was completely shut down.
Police Chief Adam Bohannon said his staff “had our share of problems at the hotel prior to closing,” which included drug activity. Since then, there have been no problems, he said.