Zoning change may be needed for Simes House

Making the Simes House a sustainable operation will be next to impossible without a zoning change, Manomet Village Common Incorporated Chairman John Moody told the Board of Selectmen, Tuesday night.

Manomet Village Common Inc., which was created by several prominent Manometians, was the sole bidder for the contract to manage the historic home. Moody described how the group planned to generate the funds needed to keep it operating. But, given the current zoning, the group is reluctant to commit to the planned five-year lease. He asked Selectmen to include a provision allowing MVCI to withdraw if a zoning change isn’t approved. Without it, Moody said, trying to operate the Simes House “seems like an insane endeavor.”

But, according to Moody, a good portion of that plan depends on Town Meeting granting a zoning change in the fall. As he explained, revenue to sustain the Simes House will primarily come from three sources. The rent from two affordable housing units on the third floor, rent from offices on the second floor and fees generated from events. The third and second of those become legally dicey unless the building’s zoning is changed from its current residential classification to transitional commercial.

Businesses may be reluctant to sign a lease unless the property is properly zoned, Moody said. Similarly, allowing events, such as weddings, on a regular basis could be a problem.  “Business are going to be uncomfortable signing a long-term lease for a property zoned residential,” Moody said.

The current zoning makes outdoor events particularly difficult, Moody said. Functions on Manomet Common are essential to the MVCI’s financial plan. While they can be used for some small events, the four meeting rooms, which each fit between 25-40 people, on the Simes House first floor are not well-designed for large functions, he said. Moody said the group would ask for special permits to do a couple of outside events in the fall.  They also plan on holding fundraisers at other locations.

The first event on the grounds, though, is scheduled for this Saturday at 10 a.m., as the Community Preservation Committee will hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Selectman Anthony Provenzano warned Moody that getting the zoning change wouldn’t be easy. Any private developer, he observed, would meet skepticism if they asked for such a change. “Any zoning change will be evaluated on its merits. It’s gotta make sense,” he said.

The location of the Simes House is an attractive one for tenants, Moody said. He pointed out that it’s within walking distance of a number of local businesses, including a supermarket. When events happen there, people will shop in the area, he claimed. As an example, he noted a wedding took place on the grounds of the Simes House and the guests shopped and stayed locally.

Presently, Moody said he hoped to have residential tenants in by November and business tenants in sooner. Since the apartments are designated affordable, they will have to be offered via lottery.  He said that some businesses are already interested.

There are some immediate improvements the MVCI wants to do, Moody said. Those include upgrading the security system and doing some touch-up work on the exterior. Installing a kitchen is also on the list. The Community Preservation Committee opted to not install a kitchen as a cost-saving measure, leaving that up to the building’s managers.

As for the security system, the Simes House, Moody noted, has multiple uses. A third floor tenant, for example, might be concerned about the access the public has to other parts of the building.

Insurance costs are also a concern, as the amount has come in higher than expected. The building’s value is currently unknown. Moody put it as “between $460,00 and $4 million.”  For now, the house is valued it at $2 million, Moody said.

Provenzano made a motion to grant the MVCI the requested escape clause, but Selectman Shelagh Joyce was reluctant to go along, saying she wanted to review changes to the MVCI’s planned budget. Moody said any further delay would push bringing in residential tenants into December. In the end, Selectmen voted to support the motion 4-0, with Joyce abstaining.

“The odds of being successful are not in your favor,” said Selectmen Chairman Ken Tavares, “I thought Memorial Hall was tough, this is tougher.”

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