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Cape Cod's Dennisport Cottage Colonies Could Make Way for Resort Hotel

By By Cynthia McCormick, Cape Cod Times, Hyannis, Mass.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Oct. 21, 2009--DENNIS -- If some town officials' wishes came true, the cottage colonies that shoulder Old Wharf Road would be replaced by a destination hotel.

The cottage cesspools are an old-fashioned wastewater nightmare right next to Nantucket Sound, according to Dennis Town Planner Daniel Fortier. And the colonies' closure during winter means the town isn't getting tax revenue that would be possible with a year-round resort.

But to the seasonal residents who summer in the hundreds of tiny cottages and RVs squeezed in along the shore, the cottage colonies represent a slice of Cape Cod heaven for people who ordinarily couldn't afford a place on the water.

"People have been here for decades," said Terry Smith at Chase's Ocean Grove. He stood in front of a small shingled cottage with a porch, which he said is one of 277 cottages in the colony.

"I learned to walk in front of this cottage," he said. "Where else can you be so close to the water and afford it? We're all working-class people. There's no rich people in here."

Fortier said the land occupied by Chase's Ocean Grove, Curtis Pine Grove, Salt Air Village and Campers' Haven could be put to better use.

"It provides the greatest opportunity to have a destination resort or hotel," he said. "The area is quite dense. The structures are tired. There are significant wastewater issues to be addressed in the area."

He envisions a hotel resort along the lines of Chatham Bars Inn. "You'd probably clear the cottages off the beach" to create more beach area as well as a picturesque location for weddings and conferences, Fortier said.

The area already allows hotel development, but Fortier is proposing zoning changes for May town meeting that could make the area more attractive to developers. They include increasing the height limitation for structures from two to 2 1/2 stories and allowing accessory uses such as gift shops and restaurants.

With a hotel project, the town could get assurances of a new wastewater treatment plant before ground is even broken, Dennis Town Health Director Terence Hayes said. He estimated that 200,000 gallons of wastewater are created daily by the cottage colonies during the summer. "There's a huge amount of wastewater going into the ground in close proximity to Nantucket Sound," he said.

Hayes said he caught a homeowner at Chase's Ocean Grove three years ago replacing a broken cesspool with a new cesspool, against Title 5 septic regulations.

Several of the cottage colonies are now working with the state Department of Environmental Protection on upgrading their wastewater systems, Hayes said. He said Salt Air Village is actively upgrading its wastewater system.

At Chase's Ocean Grove, where residents own the buildings and lease the land, homeowners already have spent thousands of dollars looking into the possibility of a wastewater treatment plant, Smith said.

Cottage owners will do what they can to hold onto their seaside summers, Smith said. "The town would have one hell of a fight on their hands" if they tried to replace the colony, he said.

"I think it's a shame if they do away with the cottages," said Karen Lawrence, who owns a cottage building at Curtis Pine Grove but is moving to a new home in Dennisport. "It will change the flavor of this road."

Residents at Pine Grove get together for potluck dinners, and the folks at Campers Haven decorate their cottages and RVs for Christmas in July and host a summer "Halloween" party.

Hayes said the town isn't trying to force the cottage colonies out. He said town officials want to allow hotels into the area if the colony properties are sold.

The proposed zoning changes are part of a plan to create an enhanced hotel zone in three areas of town, the others being Chase Road and West Dennis.

"Now, we're not sure what would be there," Hayes said.

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To see more of the Cape Cod Times, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.capecodonline.com.

Copyright (c) 2009, Cape Cod Times, Hyannis, Mass.

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