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Could dormitories answer seasonal employee housing needs in Orleans?

ORLEANS — Town officials are hoping that businesses respond to a seasonal housing needs survey. The 16-question survey is an attempt to gauge what area businesses want in order to find year-round and seasonal employees.

The importance of employee housing figures prominently.

The Zoning Bylaw Task Force has discussed the possibility of amending town bylaws to allow for dormitories in town as a way to house a workforce.

At a Nov. 9 Planning Board meeting, Director of Planning and Community Development George Meservey relayed some of the task force's recommendations.

One is that dormitories should be allowed in the business district where there are public sewer hookups. That area would essentially be the downtown business district.

The task force did not recommend using the industrial district for dormitory construction. But several planning board members indicated the industrial zone could be an ideal location for a dormitory. The town owns 95 acres in the industrial zone, located east of State Highway in the Giddiah Hill Road area.

Meservey said the density of a dormitory would have to be significant to be economically viable. He cited Edgartown, which allows up to 100 beds in a project.

Locating a dormitory in the industrial zone would likely mean less pushback from neighbors who don’t want high density housing nearby, he said.

Another possibility is amending the congregate dwelling sections of the town’s bylaws to allow for dormitories. Meservey said there would likely be pushback on this because of concerns about noise, density and changes to the composition of neighborhoods.

“Businesses struggle with seasonal help and it’s all connected to housing,” said Hadley Luddy, executive director of the Homeless Prevention Council. “We need layers of different types of housing. It’s not just ADUs (accessory dwelling units), affordable housing developments or dormitories. It’s a combination of things."

She cited the Barracks in Provincetown, a proposed development that would create housing for seasonal and year-round employees with a combination of dormitory rooms, studios and one-bedroom apartments. The dormitory rooms would provide space for up to 112 employees.

Luddy calls the Barracks a bright light on the housing horizon. The project’s design and its combination of seasonal and year-round employee housing sets it apart, she said.

The Barracks also drawn the ire of neighbors who claim the project is too big. Some residents have challenged the development in court, claiming that town zoning bylaws weren't followed. They want the special permit approved by the Planning Board on June 10 annulled.

“You have to look at dormitory housing for what it means to the business community as well as the community character,” said Scott Kerry, owner of Kerry Insurance, in Orleans.

“As business owners we have a number of problems” Kerry said. “We need to address foreign workers. We need to address the cost of housing as a percent of income.”

He said there were a number of organizations and towns addressing it, including Eastham and Orleans.

Eastham is considering housing options on three parcels of land including the T-Time, Town Center Plaza and Council on Aging properties. Orleans is developing plans for the Governor Prence Inn property on Route 6A, at 107 Main St. and for a 62-unit affordable housing project on West Road.

Meservey admitted that putting dormitories in the downtown business district might not work because it is a prime location for condominiums and apartments.

Any proposed changes to the zoning bylaws would require a public hearing and town meeting approval.

“We have a positive attitude but we have a long way to go to change the laws,” said Planning Board Chairman Chet Crabtree.

Crabtree said he doesn't think the issue will make it to town meeting in May because of the work that needs to be done first.

"Location is an issue," he said. "People don't want it in their back yards."

If a location is available in the industrial zone, Crabtree thinks the town should consider it.

"There's nothing precious about those 95 acres that we can't borrow one," he said.

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