Outreach and Education Case Study

Dennisport Village Center Rezoning Project

The Town of Dennis wished to develop a Village Center Bylaw that would allow village center zoning in the downtown portion of Dennis (Dennisport). The town's goal was to revitalize Dennisport from a typical single story commercial use area to a multi-storied, mixed use center with active sidewalks that would attract both visitors and potential residents to its potential new and renovated buildings.

Dennisport Village.

The Dennis Economic Development Committee (EDC) had worked with local businesses, residents and property owners for nearly two years before bringing a proposal to the town Selectmen.  These interest groups felt extremely comfortable with the proposal, and when no opposition had arisen during the long period of study, they began to believe that the proposal would pass overwhelmingly.  However, while the proposal was well received by the public, some town officials raised a number of questions.  During the Planning Board’s public hearing regarding the zoning proposal, which was poorly attended, several questions were raised by local officials such as:  “if the village wants this rezoning, where are the supporters?”; “how much waste water will be generated by development that is allowed under the rezoning?”; “how will wastewater be treated in this area?”; and “what will the area look like?”.  The EDC took the lack of neighborhood turn-out at the hearing to reflect a high comfort level in the neighborhood with the proposal.  There was no neighborhood opposition raised at the public hearing.  However, the EDC recognized a need to get the neighborhood back involved in order for the proposal to pass.

With regard to the wastewater issues raised, the EDC had consulted the Board of Health on these issues and had been assured that the Board of Health could accommodate the redevelopment of Dennisport.  However, the Economic Development Committee felt it would be better to craft answers to these questions; and therefore, pulled the proposal off of the Town Meeting warrant.

The Economic Development Committee realized that they had two very different factions to deal with, those that dealt with hard facts and could easily be answered, such as the septic issue, and those that were sparked by emotion, such as the opposition to the building heights and densities proposed.  At the time, those opposed to the proposal could not envision anything over the existing one to two-story building heights in the area, and perceived the rezoning as destructive to the character of Dennisport.  Those opposed were particularly concerned that the increased building heights and density proposed in the revitalization plans might affect the appearance and flavor of the community.  It seemed that the town’s vision of the revitalization was not adequately portrayed.

Dennisport Village improvements. However, the Town did not lose hope.  In 2004 the EDC, working with the Dennisport Revitalization Committee, in partnership with a local nonprofit agency (Association to Preserve Cape Cod), developed a more robust outreach campaign that included a number of community meetings and events, outreach materials, and visualizations.  First, APCC hired a consultant to develop 3-D visualizations of Dennisport as an attractive, walkable, active village center.  In these visualization images, the consultant literally fit the pieces of the picture together and was able to show residents what the revitalization plan would actually look like.  The consultant used the actual height and dimensional standards of the proposed bylaw to create the visualizations for the new Dennisport Village Center .  All the architectural elements required for a village center (with New England charm) were taken into consideration in the illustrations such as proposed setback requirements, roof pitch, traditional building materials, building heights and landscape particulars.  Side by side visual comparisons were made of existing conditions in Dennisport and how Dennisport could look with the 35’ two-story and 42’ three-story building heights allowable under the proposed zoning changes.  Developing these portable, reusable images presented the Committee with important materials to use during community meetings (e.g., a Spaghetti Supper with approximately 135 attendees!), and the town’s “Dennisport Day” event where these visualization posters were displayed and discussed.  In addition, brochures were developed showing the same comparisons, which were distributed to interested parties at every Dennisport commercial establishment, the town library and other public buildings in town.Dennisport Village improvements.

The EDC and the Dennisport Revitalization Committee used these strategies to re-energize the public behind the Dennisport Zoning proposal.  After careful review of the visualization illustrations, the neighborhood group and public-at-large pressed the Planning Board to support the rezoning project.  In addition, the Board of Selectmen, who had supported the Dennisport project from the beginning, used the re-energized support from the community to encourage the support of other town boards for the zoning bylaw revisions.  When the visualizations were presented at the September, 2004 Special Town Meeting, residents voted 200 – 40 to approve the zoning revisions that would permit 3-story structures in downtown Dennisport.  Passage of this new zoning bylaw allows a mix of retail, commercial, professional and upper floor residential uses within a single property.  At the same town meeting, Dennis residents took the first step toward passing the Community Preservation Act and purchased 2 open space parcels, thus offsetting the increased density in Dennisport with preservation of open land.