Sandwich Beach Houses

A new beach house under construction along Salt Marsh Road in East Sandwich

After a hiatus of almost a year, the Sandwich Conservation Commission has resumed efforts to revise regulations governing development in environmentally fragile areas—especially the town’s coastal dunes and barrier beaches.

Previous efforts to limit the size of homes that can be built—or rebuilt—along the coast prompted a fast and furious reaction from local contractors who said the proposed regulations were too stringent and would essentially halt all development on the beach.

Most of the conservation commission members who sat in on last year’s heated meetings have since left the board. The new board members, however, have said they intend to press on.

The commissioners began informally discussing the regulations at their September 2 meeting, but stressed that it was not a public hearing and did not invite comments from observers attending the Zoom meeting.

The 90-minute discussion covered about 10 of the regulations they hope to revise. The commissioners left the more controversial regulations for their next meeting, but will not vote on the changes until a public hearing—or hearings—are held.

They did review their powers of enforcement and seemed to agree that individual commissioners should have the ability to issue “stop work” orders if they witness egregious violations—such as a tractor operator blazing an illegal trail through the dunes—and the conservation officer is not available.

New member Roy Anderson said he was unsure whether he and his colleagues were responsible for directly confronting violators.

Not to worry, said Joshua K. Wrigley, assistant natural resources director who serves as liaison to the board.

“The key word in the regulation is ‘may.’ It is not meant to put the burden of enforcement on the commissioners,” Mr. Wrigley said. “No one expects you to throw yourself under the bulldozer.”

The commissioners also discussed limiting the number of applications they hear at each meeting, the imposition of fines, what kinds of pilings and foundations must be used in coastal areas, and at what point violations of regulations can be viewed as criminal acts.

Still to be discussed are the controversial regulations setting size limits on new and rebuilt beachside cottages.

Local architects and builders last year argued that small cottages built right onto the dune do more harm to the environment than the slightly larger replacement cottages that are built up on federally and state-mandated pilings.

If the conservation commission limits the size of rebuilt cottages to a proposed 1,400 total square feet, current and future cottage owners will not be willing to make the investment to tear down the old structures and put replacement cottages up on required pilings, the contractors have said.

Under the existing unwritten town guidelines, the livable space in replacement structures can only be 60 percent bigger than the original cottages.

That percentage is workable, the contractors say, and most of the the new cottages they have built range from 1,800 square feet to about 2,000 square feet.

Natural Resources Director David J. DeConto said last year that the proposed 1,400-square-foot limit may not be the final number.

He has also said, however, that the regulations have to be changed to protect the dune from erosion, sea rise, and storm damage.

When the regulations are put into final draft form, they must be approved by him and the town attorney, and must be discussed at two public hearings before they are codified, Mr. DeConto has said.

Under the proposed regulations, size limits would govern buildings that are razed and replaced, as well as add-on porches, patios and other such renovations.

The purpose of the regulations is to protect the fragile barrier beach from overdevelopment, but would also lessen the visual impact of huge, wrap-around decks, docks, walkways and sheds that have been added to the small houses and cottages near the beach, Mr. DeConto has said.

Mr. DeConto has been urging the conservation commission for years to amend the regulations.

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