posted on May 08, 2019 14:53
By: William F. Galvin, Cape Cod Chronicle
HARWICH — The pet cemetery project was put to rest Tuesday after town meeting voters approved a petitioned article that took the 2.25 acre parcel out from under the jurisdiction of the cemetery commission and returned it to the board of selectmen for general municipal purposes.
The cemetery commission had a hard night, with voters also rejecting an article that would establish a revolving fund that would have allowed revenues from the sale of lots in the pet burial ground to be used in the maintenance, improvements and support of the facility.
A third article seeking $131,000 to provide funds to complete the construction of the pet cemetery and to reimburse the general fund $70,280 for funds already spent on improvements made to the site was also overwhelmingly defeated.
It took voters five and a half hours Tuesday to work through the 44 articles remaining on the annual warrant, approving, among others, measures seeking use of town-owned land for affordable housing and banning single-use plastic bottles by the town.
Tom Birch was the lead petitioner on the article seeking to return jurisdiction of the property to the board of selectmen. He said the project was never handled properly, calling it a “solution looking for a problem.” Birch argued the property in the town's industrial zone along Queen Anne Road is worth more than $1 million.
“They wanted to take this extremely value property and turn it into an expense,” Birch said of cemetery commission plans for the pet cemetery.
Cemetery Administrator Robbin Kelley said that there is the potential for 10,550 cremation lots with additional green space pathways, which could provide even more lots. She said lot sales could generate $1 million if sold to residents and as much as $2 million if sold to nonresidents.
Gary Conroy said a pet cemetery should be left to the private sector, not town government. Brian Paradee also took issue with the proposal, stating a financial analysis was never done and no business plan provided for the project. He said it would take 19 years for the burial ground to generate the $131,000 sought to complete the work and 138 years to generate $1 million.
While the petitioned article as approve allows the jurisdiction to be returned to selectmen, Town Counsel Amy Kwesell said before that can happen the cemetery commission must first vote to declare the parcel as surplus land.
Voters agreed to use $340,000 in Community Preservation Act funds for the Affordable Housing Trust to create and preserve affordable housing in town. The appropriation includes the use of $30,000 to fund a part-time housing coordinator position.
The trust was also looking for the approval of several parcels of land to develop affordable housing. Voters agreed to transfer land into the care and custody of the trust, but in the article identifying the parcels, the motion deleted the The Albro House property, a 1.38-acre parcel to the west side of town hall.