Parking concerns raised as Simes House manager seeks zoning change (with poll)

Efforts to rezone the Simes House met local opposition and a less than enthusiastic Planning Board, Monday night.

Members of Manomet Village Commons Incorporated, the nonprofit that has a contract to operate the home, have insisted that a zoning change is needed to make the project financially viable.

MVCI President John Moody described how his group wanted to fund operations of the Simes House without taxpayer help. According to Moody, the MVCI expects to generate almost $64,000 annually from renting out a pair of apartments on the top floor of the house and four offices on the second floor. The apartments are classified as affordable.

That number falls short of the $76,000 needed to operate the Simes House, according to Moody. The rest would be made up from renting out the building and grounds for functions, including fundraisers.  Moody said the number of private functions would be limited to between six and eight. In addition, there would be up to six fundraisers permitted for local organizations, including the MVCI itself.

In order to allow those functions, the MVCI is asking that Town Meeting change the property’s zoning from residential to transitional commercial. “It is unlikely that the Simes House will be self-supporting without the change,” Moody said. If the zoning change isn’t approved, the MVCI would withdraw as manager of the property.

Opponents of the plan had concerns about the available parking for the Simes House and the impact it will have on Old Colony Drive, the narrow gravel road which loops behind it. According to Moody, the house has a paved lot in the back for nine cars plus two handicapped spaces that’s accessed via Old Colony Drive. The front lawn can hold up 19 cars, he said. The lawn was reinforced for just that purpose, he noted.

“The project has not been a good neighbor,” Old Colony Drive resident Sandra King said. Acting as spokesman for her neighbors, she said the biggest issue was the parking.  People attending evening meetings pack the small lot, creating a nuisance. As for the front parking, she argued that allowing cars there negated its promised use as open space.

Finding additional parking has been a concern for Moody. The plaza across the street now has a large sign warning that people parked there who aren’t shopping will be towed. At an earlier presentation to the Manomet Village Steering Committee, Moody said he planned to inquire about reaching an agreement with other nearby property owners about using their lots for events.

Planning Board Member Bob Bielen said that the parking issue and the neighbors’ concerns needed to be addressed. He noted that a proposal to rezone local businessman Barry Wood’s Beaver Dam Road property so he could open an antique store was rejected a few years earlier. One of the issues that derailed that plan was the lack of parking, he said. “Normally, we would oppose a proposal like that,” he said.

Besides the parking, opponents also questioned the fairness of changing the zoning. “What we’re doing here is protecting nobody’s rights in the neighborhood,”  Town Meeting Member Tom Kelly said. “By changing this zoning, you’d be tramping on these people’s rights.” Calling the Simes House “a money pit” he said that if the project failed, and the town was forced to sell it, another business could move in, creating even more of a nuisance.

In his presentation, Moody pointed out that a great deal of the land near the Simes House is zoned commercial. There are also several home businesses in neighboring residences, he said.

Planning Board Member Malcolm MacGregor said he agreed with Kelly’s concerns, but said he supported the change because it “would improve the vitality of the town.” Member Paul McAlduff also supported it, saying the town had already invested so much into the project.

The final vote was 2-1 in favor, with Bielen the opposing vote. Chairman Ken Buechs, a member of the MVCI recused himself. Member Tim Grandy was absent.

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