BLOG: A Vibrant Village Center

Written by Leslie Richardson, Chief Economic Development Officer, Cape Cod Commission

With its compact scale reinforced by lovely historic structures, shaded streets, and unique independent businesses, Orleans Village Center is the potential jewel of the Route 6A Corridor. The welcoming sense of place created by these elements is attractive to residents and visitors and makes the village an important economic asset to the town.

But why the word “potential”?

Orleans Village Center is the kind of place where people, young and old, increasingly want to live. Creating smaller, less expensive housing opportunities in the Village Center could help forestall the actual and projected loss of year-round residents. With more people living downtown, the Village Center would indeed be vibrant, creating new business opportunities and a stronger sense of community. Unfortunately, current land prices, development costs, and development regulations make such opportunities financially infeasible in Orleans and across the Cape.

The Orleans Local Comprehensive Plan (LCP), a reflection of community values and aspirations adopted by town meeting, calls for planning initiatives to retain the town’s maritime village character and to focus development into distinct, concentrated commercial nodes that will ensure a vibrant Village Center. The LCP encourages development that provides year-round job opportunities, enhances community character, and protects or improves the natural environment, particularly water quality.

So how can we capture the “potential” of Orleans and realize the LCP vision? That is the fundamental question addressed by the Cape Cod Commission in its recently-completed study of the Route 6A Corridor in Orleans, undertaken at the request of the Orleans Planning Board.

The Route 6A Corridor Study makes 19 recommendations, the most important of which is to direct future commercial and housing development into the Village Center and to reduce the amount of development potential outside the Village Center. This action is necessary to attract the critical mass needed for a vibrant and active downtown and to provide housing that is affordable to a broader spectrum of the population. To accomplish this goal, zoning will need to be modified and protections for historic structures adopted, along with strong design guidelines for new construction and creative solutions to potential parking and traffic impacts on the village. Zoning that combines compatibles uses, design and density with appropriate municipal investment can create complementary areas with unique identities and advantages.

The Commission’s recommendations also address both ends of Route 6A at Eastham and Brewster, each with an outdated street design aimed at moving cars quickly through the area and lacking provisions for pedestrian and bike traffic or easy linkage with the Cape Cod Rail Trail. The recommendations encourage redevelopment of some commercial areas along Route 6A to better reflect the desired community character and capture the full market potential of these properties. Throughout the corridor, the report suggests sidewalk improvements, landscaping and street furnishings where appropriate, as well as signage and marketing to draw people to the area. Concerns regarding parking, traffic, and pedestrian and bike needs will be addressed in more detail in the up-coming circulation and parking study to be completed by the Commission at the request of the Orleans Planning Board.

While not specifically addressed in the Route 6A Corridor Project, wastewater infrastructure is an essential element to realizing an increasingly vibrant Orleans Village Center. Wastewater infrastructure should be built only where additional development is desired. Given the limited population and market growth projected for the future, the goal should be to concentrate existing development potential into the Village Center where it will provide the greatest economic benefit to the entire community and make the vision outlined in the LCP a reality.

The final Route 6A Corridor Report is available on both the Orleans Town website and the Cape Cod Commission website under RESET.

Leslie Richardson is Chief Economic Development Officer for the Cape Cod Commission. Leslie has worked for the Commission since 2003 and has considered the Cape home since childhood. She is active in many community organizations and was Project Manager for the Orleans Route 6A Corridor Project, which will be presented to the Orleans Board of Selectmen on Wednesday, February 10, 2016. The Orleans Community Partnership (OCP) encourages the public to visit the Exhibit on the Route 6A Corridor Study at Town Hall and encourages entries in the Comments Project. For more on the OCP, please visit www.itsallinorleans.com.

 NOTE: This Guest Commentary originally appeared in The Cape Codder, “It’s All In Orleans: A Vibrant Village Center,” February 5, 2016.

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