EASTHAM — Land acquired by the town over the past four years has opened the way to a vision for development that strives to create a walkable small-town center, in both form and feeling — something that has eluded Eastham.
But before the North Eastham Village Center Master Plan can move forward, zoning reform is in order. An RFP released by the town on June 13 highlights that need.
The town is seeking help with the creation of form-based code zoning amendments, new architectural design standards, potential “smart growth” or district improvement financing zoning overlays, and a Route 6 corridor plan.
Encompassing the town-owned T-Time parcel, Town Center Plaza, and Council on Aging properties, Eastham’s master plan would create a pedestrian-friendly “downtown,” a new community center and public green space, and year-round housing in a stretch long defined by strip malls and curb cuts.
Bringing in outside assistance to amend the zoning bylaws, town planner Paul Lagg said, “was always part of the plan.”
In 2018, the town adopted the Eastham Corridor Special District (ECSD) zoning overlay to preserve commercial areas and facilitate mixed-use development along Route 6. As a result, Lagg said, numerous properties became “pre-existing nonconforming,” causing headaches for owners who found they triggered compliance requirements when seeking any kind of permit from the town.
“We want to address how we can get better compliance without making it too onerous on the property owners,” Lagg said.
Another key piece is shifting the district away from restrictive property use categories — like looking at whether a building will be a restaurant or other business, residential, or both — towards what’s called a “form-based” zoning code. That means creating codes that set out criteria like height, setbacks, and design standards to emphasize the look and feel of the built environment.
“We’re trying to provide a playbook,” Lagg said, that allows people to have a clearer idea about whether their plans will pass muster with the town. He imagines a developer being able to say, “If I’m checking all the boxes, I can be reasonably sure my project will get permitted in the North Eastham corridor.”
Bids are due July 11. The goal is to put zoning amendments on the warrant for the May 2024 annual town meeting, Lagg said.
Town Administrator Jacqui Beebe said that “several things have to align before we’re going to be comfortable going out to try and attract a development partner or partners.” One of those things, she said, is revised zoning; another is clarity on wastewater capacities at the T-Time and Town Center Plaza properties; and a third is “a more defined district plan,” she said, which the zoning consultant will also help develop.
The district plan would ideally connect the T-Time and Town Center Plaza parcels by a new right-of-way off Brackett Road, called “Main Street” in draft plans.
The town hasn’t had formal easement discussions, but Beebe said property owners along the way “see the benefits that it might bring to their business to have frontage on both Route 6 and another street.”
Beebe gave a “conservative” timeline of late 2024 or early 2025 for starting to work with developers. Union Studios, which has contracted with the town since February 2022 to gather community input and develop conceptual master designs for the three sites, has already produced “preliminary plans,” Beebe said. “It’s the beginning of something that we can then start to develop — take from a conceptual drawing to a finished drawing.”
The plans that Union Studios and their partners presented to the select board on March 20 included some key changes from what residents saw at the third and final public design forum on Oct. 12.
The number of new housing units across the three properties went up from 69 to 82, largely through the addition of a new parcel to the project: the land directly southeast of Town Center Plaza that’s currently owned by Cape Cod Five Bank. According to the final concept plan, this “bank outparcel” would have 5,000 square feet of mixed-use commercial space, 10 units of housing, and 38 parking spots.
At the March meeting, Beebe noted that the town does not yet own this piece of land but that the bank has expressed a willingness to sell.
Lagg also told the select board about the need for zoning reform in the special district to advance the project. “On the town side, these are all things we can do to set the course and reduce the variables for developers to say, ‘Hey, I know what I’m getting into,’ ” he said.