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Oops, we sprawled. Now what?

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The beautification of Yarmouth's Route 28

By Bill Barnes

Thursday, November 13, 2003

No one would call the stretch of Route 28 that runs through the south side of Yarmouth a scenic vista. The contrast with the Old King's Highway to the north is stark.

Both roads could be called cases of arrested development, but the development of one was arrested with the flower in full bloom, while the other seems more of a wilted rose, if, indeed, it ever was a rose.

On the north side road there is already a strong regime in place to keep things just as they are in perpetuity. On the south side all the talk these days is about change, and there is a lot of talk going on.

"I think this is the dawning of a new day," says Bob DuBois, executive director of the Yarmouth Area Chamber of Commerce, "The question is how we move from dialogue to action."

DuBois and the chamber are talking to town agencies about what is to become of the road and the businesses along it. The issues are many - crime, wastewater, zoning, affordable housing and traffic - but the most obvious is the blight, the flip side of beautification.

What can be done about the vacant shops with broken windows, the buildings that have been crumbling for decades, the strip malls with marginal businesses that make no pretense to the sea captain elegance on the other side of the tracks?

"I think Route 28 is unfairly categorized. I don't want to use the words you often hear, because they are untrue," says DuBois. "If you looked at Route 28 lot by lot you would see that a large percentage of those lots have been improved by private investment over the past 10 years."

A closer look supports DuBois' contention. Old businesses have been maintaining the premises and adding new plantings. New businesses are striving to conform to the Cape Cod look to the point of turning around a corporate headquarters mentality that sees building design as a part of the corporate logo.

Though Route 28 never was an Indian trail like Route 6A and never housed many sea captains, it was, like its more elegant cousin, a pioneer trail.

Built in the 1930s to straighten and pave the way for vacationers to access the beauties of Cape Cod in the postwar period, it brought the cars, that brought the businesses, that brought the people who changed Yarmouth irrevocably.

In 1940, Yarmouth was a collection of five villages with 2,286 people, not much different from what it had been 100 years before.

Some say you could walk from South Yarmouth to the now extinct village of Yarmouth without seeing a house three blocks above the one village or two blocks below the other.

Sixty years later it has grown 11-fold to a population of 24,807.

The little Pine Knot Motel in South Yarmouth is a living record of how today's Route 28 got started . Deborah Stanley's father built it with his own hands in 1952. Deborah grew up there and took it over when her parents died.

It is also one model of what can be done. By living frugally and planting extravagantly, Stanley has turned the Pine Knot into a landmark. Her accountant warns her that her floral displays eat up half her profits, but still spends six weeks every spring planting, just because she loves flowers, she says

The flowers also bring business to a 16 guest room motel that most lodging industry people would tell you is too small to survive in the modern economy. "People tell me the reason we pulled in here is because of the flowers. That's the byproduct," she says.

Stanley has been following the debate over revitalization, but is skeptical about the town's ability to do much and hostile to the idea of turning old motels into affordable housing. "As a tourist I don't want a motel next to affordable housing," she says, "I want a resort area."

Stanley's plantings are her business plan, according to DuBois, who holds her in deepest respect, even if she dismisses his claims that Route 28 has been getting more attractive lately and says the only improvement she has seen lately was when the Grapevine restaurant burned down earlier in the year.

"The Pine Knot is a great example of a lot of hard work and pride in your property that translates into something that is attractive to the community and attractive to business," says DuBois. Such examples often lead neighboring businesses to beautify, he says

Captain Parker's Pub is another older establishment that wins awards for the way it is maintained and for the plantings out front. Owner Jerry Manning has long been active in encouraging others to do the same.

"I think we have made great advances on Route 28," he says. "Every spring the road looks better. Business people realize image is important. If you take pride in your property it reflects on your business."

Manning says much of the blight problem stems from businesses that are too small to do a profitable business, and thinks the town could do more especially in making it easier for small businesses to get started, though the atmosphere at Town Hall is improving in his view. "When an honest businessman is trying to make things better, they should make things easier." he says.

One of Manning's concerns is the possibility of new heavy-handed regulations. "It is all in the approach. No one likes to be strong-armed. It is a delicate balance."

johnson Martin, who runs a real estate business on Route 28, is also a founding member and co-chairman of the Route 28 Task Force, a committee that relies on friendly persuasion to help improve the look of the road.

"Most people recognize the greenery has sprung up along Route 28. It is much better than it was 15 years ago," he says. His committee does more than encourage existing business to keep up appearances, it also works with new businesses locating along the highway to "fit into the architectural heritage of Cape Cod."

The task force has no statutory power to dictate building styles. An earlier attempt to require architectural review of commercial buildings failed at Town Meeting. "All we can do is suggest," he says, "but it seems to me that they listen. Not everyone is willing to work with us, but the big ones usually are."

On behalf of the task force Martin sits on the town's site plan review committee, which brings together the various town officials that enforce the various building bylaws that deal with permissible uses, health issues and issues of public safety to comment on construction proposals. While the others have the power to issue and deny permits, all Martin can do is suggest cosmetic changes.

"It works especially well with the franchisers and people who have the money to do it right. Typically they like to work with us to produce an architecturally appropriate project that will be accepted by the community," he says.

In many cases the franchise businesses are caught between the town's desire for a Cape Cod look and the desire of corporate headquarters to maintain a uniform look to all its buildings nationwide.

But the task force has been able to convince franchisers to undertake more landscaping than they had planned and to change the look of the building. He cites the Shields MRI clinic near the Hyannis line, The gas station and convenience store complex at the corner of Berry Avenue, the Cumberland Farms store in West Yarmouth and the new CVS in South Yarmouth as examples of companies listening, planting and, in some cases "colonializing the architecture."

There are many cooperative efforts under way to dress up the road, too, says DuBois. The chamber is working on a five-year plan with the town's garden club to get businesses to buy flower bulbs for planting along the road. The restaurant association is working on dressing up traffic islands near the Hyannis line with new signs and plantings.

Businesses and individuals made major contributions to landscaping Chase Brook Park, which the town's land bank committee had purchased, to open up an attractive window on the sea. Work is under way on a major project to beautify the Packet Landing area near the Bass River bridge and plans have been developed to extend that effort with new plantings, parks and other improvements throughout the historic South Yarmouth village.

"There are a lot of issues facing Route 28, and beautification is certainly one of them," says Karen Greene, the town's economic development officer. "A lot of it has to do with pride. When you get a sense that a community is proud of itself, it instills a feeling that this is a nice place. If you don't know anything about a community you have to go by appearances."

From TownOnline.com

This aerial shot of Yarmouth shows Route 28's sprawl. At the middle right you can see the Airport in Hyannis. The line leading from there across the image is the sprawl along Route 28 that the town is trying to tame.

Yarmouth003.jpeg

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I think this is a smaller example of what alot of towns on the Cape are facing. Gone are the days where you could buy a small cottage on the Cape on a middle class income. The sleepiness and small year-round population has been replaced with money and sprawl as more people want to go there in the summer or, now, live there. Sadly, most towns don't seem to have a plan on how to control growth. This will inevitabley lead to clashes between old and new businesses and residents.l

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It was a little disappointing driving through some of the historic towns on Cape Cod, only to find strip shopping centers and sprawl in some areas. I think sprawl to some extent is just going to be unavoidable.

I hope they can clean it up. It's also the main reason why I like P-town so much, without really any open land, it is nearly impossible to sprawl, so it isn't spoiled yet.

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Sprawl is not just in the southern and western states, it is extensive in good old New England from Cape Cod to Maine and everywhere in between. Most of the sprawlly areas also have the fastest growing populations, over 20%/decade for parts of the Cape I believe.

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I think this is a smaller example of what alot of towns on the Cape are facing. Gone are the days where you could buy a small cottage on the Cape on a middle class income. The sleepiness and small year-round population has been replaced with money and sprawl as more people want to go there in the summer or, now, live there. Sadly, most towns don't seem to have a plan on how to control growth. This will inevitabley lead to clashes between old and new businesses and residents.l

Unfortunately that's exactly how most areas around the Great Lakes are. All the old cottages on the lakefront are all being torn down and replaced by multimillion dollar castles. These mansions on the water then drive up surrounding property values, inviting more sprawl. In then end, the towns end up loosing all of the charm that brought people to them in the first place.

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:angry: DOWN WITH SPRAWL  :angry:  DOWN WITH SPRAWL  :angry:  DOWN WITH SPRAWL  :angry:

LOL. I agree....DOWN WITH SPRAWL!!!!!!

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The Cape is rather unique within New England in that it is an island (well, it is a peninsula that was cut off from the mainland by a manmade canal), that is highly populated and made up of several different municipalities. Of course like other New England towns, the Cape towns fiercely defend their independence, but are coming around to the reality that their unique geography makes them intrinsically tied to each other. The towns on the Cape all share a single source underground water aquifer and any move by any one town has an effect on all towns when it regards water. Being an island with only two bridges on and off means that any development in any Outer or Mid-Cape town affects the Upper Cape towns who have to handle the increased traffic load.

Massachusetts has been looking to dismantle what little remains of county government throughout the state for years. There is a bill on Beacon Hill now that would dissolve Barnstable County (which is the Cape), make the County Sheriff's Department a state agency, and create a new Cape Cod Regional Council that would be charged with providing the few services the county currently provides, along with having a greatly expanded regional planning task. Currently the Cape has the Cape Cod Commission, which reviews all projects of regional impact and has the power to turn down proposed projects or demand drastic changes and/or mitigation to projects that will have a negative impact on the region. The Commission however misses many small projects that don't trigger the criteria for 'Critical Impact.' It's hoped that the regional council will have much more power to review smaller projects. The Commission also has to work within the town's current zoning laws, the Council will be able to recommend zoning changes that make sense to concentrate development and reduce sprawl.

The Cape also has a Land Bank which taxes all real estate transactions and places the money into a bank that the towns can draw on to aquire open space. Many critical areas in danger of development have been spared through land bank aquisitions in recent years.

The 2000 census was also a huge wake up call for the Cape. In 1970, Barnstable County's population was 96,656, in 2000 it was 222,230. That's year round pop, in the summer the population easily pushes three-quarters of a million. That puts a huge strain on the regions resources, and presents a unique planning challenge.

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I think this is a smaller example of what alot of towns on the Cape are facing. Gone are the days where you could buy a small cottage on the Cape on a middle class income. The sleepiness and small year-round population has been replaced with money and sprawl as more people want to go there in the summer or, now, live there. Sadly, most towns don't seem to have a plan on how to control growth. This will inevitabley lead to clashes between old and new businesses and residents.l

Look at my home, Nantucket Island! The proce for living there, is enough to outfit an army for a small nation.

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Yarmouth and Hyannis was pretty blatant with its sprawl... Particularly Hyannis... If Barnestable County were dismantled, how would the new Council be less of a county government? It sounds like they basicly want to keep it, but make all of the towns play under the same rules.... which is fine I guess. But then, what happens to the towns?

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Yarmouth and Hyannis was pretty blatant with its sprawl... Particularly Hyannis... If Barnestable County were dismantled, how would the new Council be less of a county government? It sounds like they basicly want to keep it, but make all of the towns play under the same rules.... which is fine I guess. But then, what happens to the towns?

I'm not really sure what ever became of the Council proposal, the County was not dismantled, but I imagine it will be at some point. The Council actually would have been the first true County government, counties in Massachusetts barely exist and cost a lot of money to do pretty much nothing. There are county courts and a county sheriffs office (which doesn't really do anything since all the towns have their own police forces). A few counties in Massachusetts have been disolved because they went bankrupt, so far Barnstable County, though expensive, is solvent.

One problem with the current Cape Cod Commission, is that individual towns can vote to leave, which of course would reduce it's regional power. There have been several attempts by towns to leave, but all have failed at the ballot box thus far.

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The townships in New England have always been very confusing to me, since we don't have them here in the South. I never really understood why county or city governments were necessary with them in place. Having been there, I feel like they make more sense because I can see for myself how things are laid out, but they still seem unecessary. That said, why not just dissolve the towns and leave the cities in tact, which can respond to the county government? (if that makes any sense)

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Cities and towns are the same thing, they are only defined by their style of goverment. Towns have town meetings and usually a council of Selectmen. Cities have a mayor or city/town manager and an elected council. The Town of Barnstable on the Cape is actually a city by definition, but officially calls itself a town. Cities like Boston and Worcester are really just towns with a city form of government.

The unincorporated areas in other parts of the country confuse me. In most of New England, every acre of land is covered by either a town or city, there is no unincorporated areas. I think there might be some places in Maine that technically aren't covered by a town.

Cities and towns run all the functions of government; Police, Fire, Schools, Water, Sewer, Zoning... 8 of Massacusetts Counties have been disolved entirely, including Suffolk where Boston is located. Cities and towns in those Counties have no government between them and the state. Only Barnstable, Bristol, Dukes, Nantucket, Norfolk, & Plymouth Counties remain. Barnstable County has a strong regional planning mandate, Dukes County is Martha's Vineyard island and also has a strong regional authority. Nantucket County has only one town, Nantucket Town, and basically functions in tandem with the town government, there's really no line between the two. The other remaining counties have various vague powers and mandates, but the real authority over most matters rests with the cities and towns.

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So if Barnestable town is more of a city, then what is Hyannis?

In the rest of the country, if you live in an urban area, then you generally live in the city of ___ or something to that effect, which has its own municipal boundaries and provides its own services. Otherwise you live in the county, and pay taxes and recieve services from it. Having townships would just be an added layer of government that demands its own taxes.

The townships in the northeast seem to be more like county governments everywhere else, and they make sense for that area because government lines (states, counties, etc) are very small in area when compared to other states.

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So if Barnestable town is more of a city, then what is Hyannis?

In the rest of the country, if you live in an urban area, then you generally live in the city of ___ or something to that effect, which has its own municipal boundaries and provides its own services. Otherwise you live in the county, and pay taxes and recieve services from it. Having townships would just be an added layer of government that demands its own taxes.

The townships in the northeast seem to be more like county governments everywhere else, and they make sense for that area because government lines (states, counties, etc) are very small in area when compared to other states.

Well, the thing to understand is that we don't have any unincorporated areas. In the Northeast, every acre of land belongs to one municipality or another. I'm not from MA, but if Barnestable is a town, Hyannis is simply a different town. In CT we only have counties for geographic identification, the county governments were dissolved years ago, since they served no purpose. Now here in CT we do have a few towns that consolidate services, like maybe 3 towns share a high school and emergency services or something like that. We even have towns with no police force, who rely on the State police for public safety, due to the fact that there are no county law enforcement agencies in CT. It's interesting when you go somewhere else. I found it equally confusing that someone could live in an unincorporated area when I first moved to Atlanta as you found our small towns and cities. It just didn't register to only live in a county with no Town or City government. I understand now, but there is a great degree of overlap in ATL metro. While some areas are unincorporated DeKalb or Fulton, Atlanta itself is actually mostly in Fulton with it's easternmost tip in DeKalb. Now that's a crazy concept for a Northeasterner, a city in two counties!! You will have state, county, and city police all doing the same thing in the same places some of the time. Pretty rediculous if you ask me. That seems kind of wasteful. I used to not even know who to call, DeKalb Police? Atlanta Police? Due to the fact that I lived in the small part of the city of Atlanta located in DeKalb county.

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Hyannis is Barnstable. Hyannis is actually a village, Cotuit is one, too! (sorry, had to beat you to it Cotuit!)

New England is known more for it's local control versus county control. In many ways the counties are more geographic and convenience oriented - a way to sperarate state agencies into smaller offices. Even when there was a county government, it was utterly powerless. In many ways I think this is why New England has managed to keep so much of it's character - that local level of control. Also keep in mind that there are counties that are larger than our smallest state.

As far as the Cape goes, it has been a tourist attraction for a very long time. AS much as people hate all the tourism and people, they are also how the Cape supports itself AND what really made the cape quaint to being with. Except for a few little villages here and there (such as Sandwich), it is all pretty much tourist development, even IF it was tourism a la 1800s.

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I knew Cotuit was a village as well as my fellow moderator... I was hoping to make it over there but time didn't permit. :(

Anyway, I think the difference in governing styles lies in the population density of the NE. Up there, you can support more, smaller governments. Down South, it wouldn't make any sense because you have miles of undeveloped unincorportated nothing between communities. On the Cape and in SE Massachussetts I rarely got that impression. Only one place in Plymouth I think... it may have been northern Bourne (above the canal) though.

With the Atlanta thing, if you needed to call the police, you could A) dial 911 and let them figure it out or B) call your lowest level of government first. You would call Atlanta City Police first.... then Dekalb County Police if they didnt respond for whatever reason. But the 911 operators always know who operates in what jurisdiction. The two county city thing is a bit odd... but you Yankees have New York, which operates in 5 counties... talk about confusing ;)

But the Hyannis/Barnestable thing still confuses me because Hyannis is clearly in Barnstable township if you look on a map (which I have). Does that mean that the village also pays taxes to the township or that they are totally independant of eachother?

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But the Hyannis/Barnestable thing still confuses me because Hyannis is clearly in Barnstable township if you look on a map (which I have). Does that mean that the village also pays taxes to the township or that they are totally independant of eachother?

The villages are just places, they aren't levels of government. The Town Hall for Barnstable is located in the Village of Hyannis. The villages do however have their own fire and water districts, and those districts have the power to tax. However, it is simply a line item on your property tax bill, not a seperate tax bill. The town has 5 fire districts, Centerville, Osterville, and Marstons Mills merged districts years ago. Town of Barnstable Fire Districts. The fire districts are relics of the all volunteer era and will probably be rolled into the jurisdiction of the town at some point in the future.

The rest of the Cape has villages as well, I don't believe any of them have the seperate fire districts that Barnstable's have. Barnstable is a pretty big town, so the villages were really quite independent at settlement time. Back in the colonial era, it would have taken most of the day to cross the town from Cotuit to Barnstable Village.

The County seat of Barnstable County is in Barnstable Village in Barstable town, so it is in Barnstable, Barstable, Barnstable, Massachusetts. :)

Down South, it wouldn't make any sense because you have miles of undeveloped unincorportated nothing between communities. On the Cape and in SE Massachussetts I rarely got that impression. Only one place in Plymouth I think... it may have been northern Bourne (above the canal) though.

Plymouth is the largest town in the state by area and has a large state forest in it's southern end, and some town conservation land surrounding it. There's a large forested area just north of the canal. There's also a lot of cranberry bogs in this area contributing to the open space.

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I knew Cotuit was a village as well as my fellow moderator... I was hoping to make it over there but time didn't permit. :(

With the Atlanta thing, if you needed to call the police, you could A) dial 911 and let them figure it out or B) call your lowest level of government first. You would call Atlanta City Police first.... then Dekalb County Police if they didnt respond for whatever reason. But the 911 operators always know who operates in what jurisdiction. The two county city thing is a bit odd... but you Yankees have New York, which operates in 5 counties... talk about confusing ;)

Well, I actually had to call the police for various issues, none of them were actually 911 emergencies though. It was more confusing than you might guess figuring out who was supposed to come out (the cops didn't even know for sure). Yeah, New York is odd, but that city plays by it's own rules.

Oh yeah, I forget about the villages. We have those in CT too. They are confusing.

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Some people get pretty defensive about them. For instance, on Nantucket, there is a village called Siasconset (I think I just murdered that name). People from there are famous (more legend now than reality) for correcting people who ask if they are from Nantucket - they say they are from 'Sconset, ON Nantucket. There are a lot of little villages up here that were absorbed by nearby towns that still think somewhat independantly. North Conway and Conway New Hampshire, for instance.

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Some people get pretty defensive about them. For instance, on Nantucket, there is a village called Siasconset (I think I just murdered that name). People from there are famous (more legend now than reality) for correcting people who ask if they are from Nantucket - they say they are from 'Sconset, ON Nantucket. There are a lot of little villages up here that were absorbed by nearby towns that still think somewhat independantly. North Conway and Conway New Hampshire, for instance.

Wickford, RI is like that. You're not from Wickford people, own up and admit you're from North Kingstown.

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Some people get pretty defensive about them. For instance, on Nantucket, there is a village called Siasconset (I think I just murdered that name). People from there are famous (more legend now than reality) for correcting people who ask if they are from Nantucket - they say they are from 'Sconset, ON Nantucket. There are a lot of little villages up here that were absorbed by nearby towns that still think somewhat independantly. North Conway and Conway New Hampshire, for instance.

Perhaps the opposite is true on Martha's Vineyard, where you have the town of Tisbury, which everyone calls Vineyard Haven (the port village)?

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