Heritage Museums & Gardens will be allowed to reopen its controversial treetops ropes course, thanks to a zoning board of appeals decision which was signed and filed with the town clerk’s office on Thursday morning, June 27.
The zoning board, by unanimous decision, found that the zipline would not cause “substantial harm” to the abutting neighborhoods, there would be a “minimal impact to existing traffic conditions,” and “noise from the Adventure Park would not impact abutting residences.”
The board did impose some conditions, including limited hours of operation, and prohibitions against lighting, music and concession stands.
The decision came during the third public hearing for Heritage Museums & Gardens. The 90-minute public hearing on Tuesday, June 25, included deliberations by the board members and limited participation from the public.
The zoning board members did ask a few questions of Heritage’s attorney, Eliza Z. Cox. The members then focused their discussions on whether the platforms and cables attached to the trees were considered structures.
Building Inspector Brendon Brides said he considered the landing platforms to be structures. He added that he believes “the whole course is a structure.”
The board members seemed to be in agreement with Mr. Brides, but the discussion shifted gears when Ms. Cox rose to present new plans to the board.
The new plans move the ropes course behind the 100-foot buffer zone between Heritage’s property and the surrounding neighborhood.
The new layout, which duplicates the original ropes course, but places it farther back on Heritage property, removes the zoning board from the structure debate, said Christopher Neeven, board chairman, after the meeting.
The board would have had to weigh in on the ropes course’s structures if they had been within the 100-foot setback required by Sandwich bylaw, Mr. Neeven said.
The audience of about 30 people included supporters of the zipline and neighbors in opposition to the increased noise and traffic the aerial park would generate.
Peter Mello, an attorney for residents living in nearby Highview Condominiums, objected to the board’s not allowing public input and to the last-minute introduction of new plans that the public did not have time to review.
Mr. Mello represented another group of Heritage neighbors in a successful legal challenge to the original zipline, which was adjudicated last summer when a judge ordered that the aerial park be closed.
Judge Cornelius J. Moriarty found that the original adventure park had been improperly granted a permit as an educational exhibit under the state’s Dover Amendment. The amendment allows educational uses to be exempted from some zoning laws.
During that trial, experts for the plaintiffs testified that surrounding property values had decreased because of the crowds and traffic from the aerial park, which opened in 2015.
Judge Moriarty ultimately agreed with those findings and said the zipline had harmed the neighborhood’s serenity and affected property values.
The board on Tuesday, however, determined that the traffic increase from the zipline would be minimal and would not be a detriment to the neighborhood. They also found that, in accordance with Sandwich bylaws, Heritage’s new park would qualify as a small-scale outdoor recreational facility.
Mr. Mello and other neighbors had questioned whether an attraction that brings thousands of people through a small, rural neighborhood could qualify as small scale.
The board members, however, found that if a ball field could be considered small scale under the bylaw, so could the aerial park.
Carlo M. DiPersio, an unofficial spokesman for the neighborhood opposition, said he was very upset, but not surprised by the zoning board’s vote.
“They are very unfair,” Mr. DiPersio said. “They are not thinking about the safety or the good of the community.”
Mr. DiPersio said the ropes course is unsafe for the users and unsafe for the trees.
“They are driving nails right into those trees and they are lying if they say otherwise,” he said.
Mr. DiPersio had built a small replica of the tree and ropes course platform structure to show how the landing platforms are attached to the trees, but he was not allowed to present it to the panel Tuesday.
Anne Scott-Putney, president and CEO of Heritage Museums & Gardens, said she was grateful for the board’s vote, and for the support of many residents and business owners.
“We would like to thank Sandwich town officials and members of the zoning board of appeals for their diligent deliberations on our special permit,” Ms. Scott-Putney said. “We are pleased that we will once again be able to open the Adventure Park. However, no timeline will be established until we comply fully with the town’s requirements.”
The new ropes course must also be approved by the Sandwich Old King’s Highway Historic District Committee and must obtain building permits from the building inspector.
Heritage was asking the zoning board for a special permit to open a “small scale outdoor recreational facility.” The first public hearing on the matter on May 14 drew a standing-room-only crowd of about 120 people to the Human Services Building on Quaker Meetinghouse Road. About 50 people showed for a second hearing in late May.