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Eastham Town Meeting: Voters OK $38.2 million budget, dredging, streamline zoning

Posted on May 10, 2023

A huge 20-by-38-foot American flag waving over the athletic fields provided an appropriate backdrop at Nauset Regional High School on Saturday where more than 320 voters assembled for the start of town meeting.

Zoning bylaws, wastewater and housing were top issues on the nine-article warrant.

At the session, voters approved a $38.2 million municipal budget, agreed to borrow $5.9 million for wastewater treatment in the Salt Pond sub-watershed and rejected a measure to ban plastic takeout food containers and plastic utensils.

Zoning issues brought more people to microphones, however. Residents sought clarification on language that dealt with definitions of everything from clear-cutting to legacy trees (those greater than 24 inches in diameter), setbacks, invasive vegetation and density requirements citing “gross floor area.”

The town’s Task Force on Residential Zoning and Regulation has been working for two years to establish what member Mary Nee calls a “starting point” on several important zoning issues.

The task force looked at bylaws from several Massachusetts towns for guidance, she said, adding that all preexisting nonconforming properties were “grandfathered” in.

“We wanted to start the process,” she said.

The article was broken down into eight sections. Terms such as clear-cutting, legacy trees and neighborhood were defined. Clear-cutting is prohibited in all zoning districts. Setbacks were established for accessory structures and perimeter vegetation. Limits on residential lot intensity were proposed out of concern that too many big houses were being built on Eastham lots.

Select Board Vice Chairman Arthur Autorino said the bylaw proposals were an attempt to give the Planning Board some objective criteria with which to make their decisions. He said the Planning Board takes on these kinds of ‘subjective’ questions all the time.

After a lengthy discussion, voters approved all of the zoning bylaw articles by the required two-thirds majority.

“We have nothing on the books,” said Select Board Chair Jamie Demetri. “This is the evolution of the process,” adding that clarifications can be added at later town meetings.

She cited concerns over clear-cutting at Cedar Banks and at a commercial property in Wellfleet, which is reverberating through the Outer Cape. Town Administrator Jacqueline Beebe added that the town and Cape Cod National Seashore are seeking mitigation for the clearing done by the builder at Nauset Regional High School.

Eastham operating budget approved by town meeting

The operating budget of $38,265,322, carrying an 8.64% increase over the past fiscal year, passed 295 to 26. Voters OK’d a $1,859,250 capital budget by a 302 to 21 vote. More than $1.3 million of the capital budget will be funded with Free Cash.

Wastewater treatment system OK’d

A $5,950,000 article to fund the planning, design, engineering and permitting of a town wastewater system passed by a vote of 302 to 25. While it is a debt exclusion question on the town ballot, the Select Board’s intent is to pay the debt service with annual short-term rental tax revenue. The town is counting on getting funding from the State Revolving Fund Loan program that has zero percent interest, the Cape and Islands Water Protection Fund, and USDA loans and grants.

A draft watershed management plan includes a treatment facility, a collection system for the Salt Pond area, permeable reactive barriers at the Salt Pond area, and testing of innovative/alternative systems in South Eastham. Without state approval to implement a watershed plan, the costs to Eastham taxpayers will be much higher, according to Arturino.

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