Brewster Moves To Implement Sea Camps Plans; Planning Board To Examine Zoning Issues

by Rich Eldred
The former administration building on the Bay Property. FILE PHOTO The former administration building on the Bay Property. FILE PHOTO

BREWSTER – After two years of careful planning, meetings, forums, surveys, discussions and overwhelming approval of the resulting plans, the bay and pond property planning committees are no more. They were dissolved on Monday evening by the select board on a 4-0 vote.

Nevertheless, with a goal of funding the beginning of phase one work on both properties at the fall town meeting, work is gearing up on implementing the plans for what used to be the Cape Cod Sea Camps. The board voted Monday to establish a new advisory committee to implement the recently approved plan and to ask the planning board to draft an overlay zoning proposal for the bay property.

The two planning committees were formed in December of 2021, and now the select board has begun creating a brand new committee to implement the plan and oversee the construction and modifications for both properties. Those committees had 10 members each. The new committee will have seven members with two supplied by the select board and the other five at large appointees to be made by the board.

“The thought was nothing was more important,” Town Manager Peter Lombardi said. “Having a single member from the select board was not sufficient. Having a couple to actively participate seemed appropriate.”

It will be an advisory committee looking to balance public access and use with ongoing site work, especially on the 55-acre bay property where many of the 90 existing buildings will be removed, others renovated and parking lots and paths constructed. They’ll develop policies for interim use, guide the financing and work with staff to explore revenue possibilities, work on the public-private partnerships with the Audubon Society and Brewster Conservation Trust and do the needs assessment study for the proposed community center.

The committee will also evaluate community interests and communicate with residents about the process.

The committee members will have a one-year term through June 2025. It is anticipated there will be non-voting liaisons from the council on aging, recreation commission, affordable housing trust, Mass Audubon and Brewster Conservation Trust.

It is expected initially the group will meet twice a month to get things up and running on what for the bay property could be a $60 million-plus project over the next decade.

“Implementation is a big lift,” Assistant Town Manager Donna Kalinick reflected. “The next couple of phases are equally important to get right as was the passing of the plans.”

There is another wrinkle. The Sea Camps date back to the 1920s, before zoning. Town Planner Jon Idman has pointed out the bay property is in a residential district and all of the proposed projects may not fall under current zoning regulations. He has suggested the town voters and planning board consider creating an overlay district for the property that would modify zoning on just the 55 acres.

An overlay district would avoid sweeping zoning changes to the neighborhood. Idman said the current municipal uses were not a problem nor would many future uses as long as they were for municipal purposes.

“The thing behind the overlay district is what zoning is necessary for the master plan?” Idman said. “The uses today don't require a change.” That isn't the case with all the future plans.

One of the proposals is for Mass Audubon to construct a nature center on the bay property and, along with a 10-acre conservation restriction around the pond, provide nature programming at both the bay and pond properties. That public-private partnership would not be permitted under current zoning.

Current residential zoning only permits one principal use building on the property. An overlay district could permit multiple buildings as are proposed. About 10 acres near Route 6A have been set aside for possible affordable housing, and seasonal housing for Audubon staff has also been proposed for existing buildings. An overlay district could modify the residential density to make sure this is all permissible.

The overlay district would also eliminate the need to create “lots” on the property with setbacks, frontage and parking requirements and permit the property to be utilized more like a campus.

“My thought as a planner was to get ahead of the issue,” Idman said. This would not be spot zoning and was permissible, he added.

“The overlay is strategic zoning. It can be established just for this property. Some sort of zoning change is probably necessary here,” Idman said. Any changes would have to go through the planning board. It is likely they wouldn’t be ready until next spring.

“We would have to draft the zoning from scratch,” he said.

The select board voted 4-0 to ask the planning board to proceed with drafting an overlay district zoning proposal for the bay property.