A. Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP) Needs Assessment

The town is required to use the needs assessment component of the SCORP for guidance in targeting areas of critical need, acquisitions, facility improvements, or programming changes. Needs assessments are created by evaluating available supply along with current and future demand as well as perceived community needs. The SCORP provides an analysis at the statewide and regional levels, it then creates regional profiles of needs, which we are required to consider when applying for grants.

Statewide the following were the top ten needs identified, column 1, and the similar top ten needs identified in the town survey:

Statewide Needs Town Needs
1. Swimming Bike Trails
2. Walking Conservation Areas
3. Road Biking Local Neighborhood Parks
4. Playground Activity Public water access for boating and fishing
5. Tennis Recreation Center Building
6. Golf Family Picnic Areas
7. Hiking trails Town Common
8. Mountain biking Hiking and Skiing Trails
9. Basketball Swimming Pool
10. Baseball Children Play Areas

The town priorities bear some resemblance to the statewide needs, but also illustrate clear differences. Some of this is due to the different demographics. Dennis median age is 49.4 years while the state median age is 36.5 years (2000). The town is blessed with north and south side beaches and a freshwater pond, all equipped with swim beaches, as such swimming is not as large a priority as it is elsewhere in the state. However, the town lacks an indoor swim facility, which has been identified as a priority recreational interest in the town. Play areas are found on both lists, as are hiking and biking facilities. The town maintains two quality golf courses. The aging population of the town is more likely to participate in passive recreational activities than basketball, baseball or tennis.

The SCORP also lays out a set of needs by region with the Cape and Islands listed as one of those regions. The verbal description notes that the need for trails is at the top of the SCORP list for all of the regions. The table in Chapter 4 of the SCORP identifies the following as the top facility needs on the Cape:

Cape Needs Town Needs
1. Swimming Bike Trails
2. Biking Conservation Areas
3. Walking Local Neighborhood Parks
4. Playground Activity Public water access for boating and fishing
5. Tennis Recreation Center Building
6. Golfing Family Picnic Areas
7. Fishing Town Common
8. Hiking Hiking and Skiing Trails
9. Sunbathing Swimming Pool
10. Roller Blading/skating Children Play Areas

As with the statewide needs, there are similarities and differences between the town and Cape needs. Bicycle facilities are high on both lists. Dennis has need for an indoor swimming pool, however, swimming is not as high a priority on the town list as it is to the region as Dennis is blessed with the best beaches on the Cape, and with both north and south side beaches, it has more linear feet of publicly available beachfront than most Cape communities. Fishing access is important on both lists as are playground facilities and areas for hiking and walking.

Overall, the needs identified in the Town of Dennis survey, discussed further below, are very similar to the priorities identified on a statewide basis.

Another similarity between the town and the statewide needs survey is the emphasis placed on maintaining existing parks. The statewide survey had 71.9% of its respondents strongly supporting increased emphasis on maintaining facilities, the Dennis survey, while using a different rating style also had improving and maintaining existing recreational facilities as the top priority. It is interesting that the state made a conclusion in its analysis that suburban communities did not see maintenance of facilities as a high priority, the town quite clearly identified this as a priority, and Dennis would definitely be considered more suburban or rural than it would seem urban. However, the SCORP does include a notation that the Cape and the Berkshires saw a need for restoration of recreational facilities, this particular comment would seem consistent with the findings of the town survey relative to the priority needed to be placed on maintenance of facilities.

B. Summary of Resource Protection Needs and Resources

The 1995 town survey found that there was broad support for acquiring open space (58 percent support, 15 percent oppose). The 2007 survey showed even wider support for acquiring such open space, 71% in favor and 29% opposed Since 1995 actions at town meeting to acquire open lands for preservation continue to reflect this broad support. In June 2003, town meeting unanimously supported the acquisition of 33 acres of land to preserve the south side of the Quivet Neck/Crowe’s Pasture District of Critical Planning Concern. Acquisitions since 2003 of Sea View Park, Bass River Park and additional land holdings within the Quivet Neck/Crowe’s Pasture area have continued to enjoy similar wide spread support. While most of the large blocks of undeveloped land in Dennis have either been acquired by the town or subdivided for residential development, there still remains important parcels to consider for protection. The town’s focus over the past several hears has been to seize opportunities in the margins which offer opportunities to enhance the value and utility of existing landholdings by acquiring or otherwise protecting smaller adjacent parcels or linkage properties; acquiring developed parcels for undevelopment; or protecting parcels with critical scenic or historic value, regardless of the size. Opportunities to acquire additional beachfront, now largely developed, may present themselves after the next vicious hurricane when landowners might be paid not to rebuild, as Falmouth did on its Surf Drive in 1992 after Hurricane Bob, and Dennis did after the 1944 hurricane flattened the Southside beaches.107 Additional access to water bodies, particularly inland ponds, should be pursued. The town should also stay alert to changes proposed in lands which are quasi-protected now by temporary restrictions, such as current use assessment lands, term conservation restrictions and undesignated-use municipal lands.

The fiscal constraints of the past several years require innovative approaches to preserving open space and natural resources. Some of these techniques have been applied in Dennis, but perhaps not emphasized.

In 1989, the Dennis Board of Selectmen endorsed the Town’s Land Acquisition Committee’s recommendation that the Town spend $5 million to purchase new town land for multiple purposes (including conservation, recreation and affordable housing) over the next five years.108 Among other things, the Committee compiled a “wish list” of desirable open space, which totalled 80 parcels, 370 acres and $13.5 million in assessed valuation.109 These properties included Chase Garden wetlands, Quivett Neck uplands and shorefront, Swan River wetlands, Weir Creek headwaters, additions to Fresh Pond Conservation Area and many smaller sites throughout the town in each village. Owing to Finance Committee opposition and the economic recession of the time,110 no parcels were ever purchased and the Land Acquisition Committee was disbanded. Many of the open space priority sites are still relevant for the town to consider acquiring.

Subsequent to the 1998 Open Space and Recreation Plan, the Dennis Land Acquisition Committee was reactivated as the source of prioritizing land acquisitions under the Cape Cod Land Bank. The Committee worked feverishly to negotiate land acquisitions that had been long delayed and to set priorities for the future.

In 2004, the town of Dennis adopted the state’s Community Preservation Act provisions and transformed its Land Acquisition Committee into a Community Preservation Committee. This Committee is now charged with prioritizing and balancing expenditures between open space acquisition, affordable housing and historic preservation. Since the creation of the Community Preservation Committee, the town has acquired such important pieces of land as Sea View Park and the Bass River Park.

Land is the resource base for many natural features, including water quality. Land can be preserved through regulatory or non-regulatory means. Regulatory means include mandatory cluster subdivisions, open space set-asides, and minimum lot size increases. Non-regulatory methods to preserve crucial resource lands in Dennis include the following approaches:

Fee acquisition (conveying full title to land)

*Donation: immediate or installment: to Town or Dennis Conservation Trust

*Purchase: friendly sale, eminent domain, bargain sale, installment sale


*Tax title transfer

Less-than fee protection (conveying partial rights to property)

* Access easement

* Conservation restrictions

* Lease

* Remainder interest/reserved life estate

* Option/rights of first refusal

* Tax-deferral programs: MGL 61, 61A, 61B

* Differential assessment program: Special Act 797 of 1979

To determine which protection technique is best suited to each target parcel, the following set of circumstances should be evaluated:

1) Needs of the community

* Is the parcel desirable for access and active use, or resource protection and passive use?

* Are acquisition funds available (cash donations, town appropriation, outside grants?)

* Is the parcel needed immediately or in the future?

2) Needs of the landowner

* Are income tax or property tax advantages, or cash most important for landowner’s financial situation?

* Is continued privacy an issue?

* Is the landowner sympathetic to public protection?

3) Size and value of parcel

* Is the parcel large enough to protect what needs protection or serve as a linkage?

* Is the entire parcel needed or only a portion?

4) Development pressures

* Will the parcel likely be available later if not acquired now?

* Is the real estate market likely to push prices beyond reach or is market declining for the foreseeable future?

* Can the Town relieve land development pressure through advantageous tax policy?

5) Maintenance

*Can the community manage the property better than current landowner, given expected levels and types of use?

* Does the Town have the money and expertise to manage the parcel?

In general, it is recommended that parcels proposed for active use, such as parks, swimming beaches or boating facilities, be publicly owned for liability reasons. Resource protection uses may not require public ownership.

Catalogue of Non-Regulatory Methods of Open Space Preservation

1) Fee Acquisition

a) Donation (outright gift of land)

The landowner gives the entire interest in a property (fee simple title) to the Town or charitable conservation organization, such as the Dennis Conservation Trust. The donor is relieved of future property taxes because ownership is relinquished. The donor may receive income tax deductions amounting to the appraised fair market value of the land.

The landowner may impose use restrictions on the deed, such as prohibiting motor vehicles, though these limitations may reduce the value of the gift. The landowner may also donate parts of the property in different years or donate undivided interests in the entire property over successive years, in order to maximize income tax benefits.

Land donations are the easiest, quickest and, obviously, cheapest land acquisition methods for the community. A title exam and hazardous waste survey should be conducted prior to conveyance. Deeds specifying conservation use should read, “to be managed in accordance with the provisions of MGL Chapter 40, section 8C,” to ensure the land cannot be devoted to other municipal use. Land donations are subject to Town Meeting approval, or Selectmen approval if accepted by the Conservation Commission. Gifts of land to the Dennis Conservation Trust do not require municipal approval.

The Town continues to rely on donations of property to supplement its ambitious land purchase program.

b) Purchase

The Town of Dennis has adopted the Community Preservation Act. The town has made judicial use of this funding source to purchase the fee simple title to the land. The length of time necessary to complete the transaction depends on negotiations, title research, appraisals and Town Meeting scheduling. If bonds are to be issued, the Town Meeting must approve the purchase by a two-thirds majority and a simple majority of a town-wide election is needed to exempt the bonds from the tax levy limit (Proposition 2 1/2.) Direct purchase was used by the Town in acquiring 142 acres in the mid-1980s and has become a major source for protection in Dennis since the adoption of the Cape Cod Land Bank and the Community Preservation Act. Since the adoption of the 2003 Open Space and Recreation Plan the town has acquired 121.89 acres bringing the town controlled open space acreage up to 1,101 acres. The Dennis Water District now controls an additional 975.9 acres of open space.

The Town has the right to take a key property for public use by eminent domain, if a negotiated price cannot be reached. Even if the Town bases compensation on an accurate appraisal, landowners often feel aggrieved and sue for additional damage awards. Juries typically side with the landowner. Because takings automatically clear away title defects, friendly negotiated sales are often written as eminent domain takings in the Town Meeting article.

Land purchases can also be structured in installments or at bargain prices to satisfy a landowner’s tax needs. A bargain sale is one at a price below fair market value by at least 20 per cent. The difference between appraised value and the sale price qualifies as a tax-deductible gift, which can offset the landowner’s capital gains tax on the sale.

Open space purchases by the town can receive approximately 50% in reimbursement from the state Self Help and Urban Self Help Programs (M.G.L. c. 132A, s. 11). Towns across the state annually compete for what has amounted to a total of (in recent years) $8 million. Dennis has been the recipient of about $2,504,643 million between July 2003 and December 2007. Property acquired with assistance from these state programs must be kept and used at all times for open space purposes. Self Help and Urban Self Help lands cannot be disposed of or converted to other uses without approval of town meeting, the state legislature and the governor. Even then, converted property must be replaced by the town with land of at least equal fair market value and of reasonably equivalent usefulness.110A

c) Bequests (Gifts by Devise)

Property can be given for public use after the landowner’s death if his or her will specifies such a disposition. This technique allows the landowner full use and enjoyment of the land during his of her lifetime, while removing the asset from estate tax obligations at the time of death. There are no income tax or property tax savings using this approach and the community gets no immediate use of the property. There is also no assurance that the will won’t be altered before decease.

d) Tax Title Transfers

Tax title properties are parcels acquired by a municipality through foreclosure owing to non-payment of property taxes (G.L.C. 60.) People may neglect to pay the minor amount of taxes due on their “worthless” wetland parcels and lose their land through foreclosure by the Town. Land values today are generally high enough to dissuade owners from risking the loss of their land through tax default. In the past, though, many properties were acquired by towns through this method.

Once acquired by the community, tax title lands are general purpose municipal lands, usually under the control of the Selectmen. They can be kept, sold by Town Meeting, or transferred to another town agency for a specific use. The Conservation Commission, for example, could request wetlands and parcels with special resource value. Barnstable and Wellfleet are two Cape towns which have regularly transferred these types of parcels to their Conservation Commissions in the past. At the May 2008 Annual Town Meeting the Town of Dennis voted to transfer a 1.5 acre parcel (0.5 acres of upland) to the Conservation Commission for conservation purposes. The property, located in West Dennis, includes a blueberry patch.

e) Reverter clause

Lands can be transferred to one entity with the stipulation that if the grantee fails to honor the grantor’s intent, the title will automatically transfer to a third party who will uphold the grantor’s intent. An example of this technique was used with land transferred by the Town to the Dennis Housing Authority. In 2008 the town exercised a reverter clause to protect a parcel of land for affordable housing after the Housing Authority ran into difficulty with the financing on the property.

2) Less-than-Fee Acquisition

a) Trail Access Easements

Many landowners are familiar with positive easements, such as for drainage, driveways or utilities. Easements may also be constructed to link open space parcels or to create viewsheds. Unfortunately, most landowners fear the loss of privacy and liability concerns sometimes associated with public use. If privacy loss is significant and fair market value is reduced, the Town should lower the tax assessment on the affected parcel accordingly. Massachusetts General Law (c. 21, s. 17C) protects landowners from liability if they allow public access without charging admission, so liability fears are probably exaggerated.

The Cape Cod Pathways Project, sponsored by Barnstable County, encourages landowners to participate in the creation of a linked system of walking trails throughout the Cape. This network would rely on land donations, easements, licenses and purchases.111 In June 1995 and June 1997 a CapeWalk was organized which led walkers from Provincetown to Buzzards Bay in eight days. The CapeWalk took a route east to west through Dennis that included much of the proposed trail through the middle of town. This stretch, with modifications, could serve as the through-route in Dennis, though others are possible particularly in the large public landholdings in East Dennis and Dennis Village north of Route 6A.

The Department of Environmental Management’s (DEM) Sea Path program, which would grant public strolling rights below the high tide line (currently, public trust rights in this inter-tidal zone are limited to fishing, fowling and navigation), is probably more relevant on Dennis’s Northside, where development into tiny shorefront lots has not occurred to the degree as it has on the Southside. The Sea Path concept does not address Dennis’s primary objective, which is providing additional “blanket space” on the beaches and adequate parking.

b) Conservation Restrictions (G.L. 184 s. 31-33)

Conservation restrictions, also called conservation easements, are voluntary, yet binding legal agreements between a landowner and the Town or conservation organization, such as the Dennis Conservation Trust. The landowner is offered powerful incentives through estate tax and federal income tax deductions and property tax relief, to keep parcels in an undeveloped state. The owner keeps control over the land, while the holder of the restriction promises to enforce the terms of protection. The state Secretary of Environmental Affairs and the Selectmen must approve each restriction based on the land’s environmental significance or other public benefit.

In 1976 the Dennis Selectmen, led by Henry Kelley II, endorsed a policy encouraging the use of restrictions as a means of preserving natural areas without the town having to purchase them. Both permanent and temporary restrictions are considered. There is no parcel size requirement. Property valuation will be reduced by as much as 95% for lands under permanent restriction. In 1991, the Town, with the help of the Dennis Conservation Trust, updated its policy to reflect changed state and federal requirements.

Between 1973 and 1978, a remarkable 64 restrictions covering about 300 acres were approved in Dennis. No other town in Massachusetts could boast of this degree of success with the technique. Unfortunately, all but ten of those 64 restrictions were temporary easements and only two of the temporary easements were renewed (and those have since expired too.) However, the use of restrictions is still in use today and individual land parcels are still being preserved by this technique. Open space leaders must reinvigorate the success of this program by landowner outreach and follow-up.

c) Lease

The Town could lease private land for open space needs, such as for a community garden. Leased are effective in their flexibility and “trial-run” aspects. A landowner who is reassured by the community’s responsible management of the leased land may be more willing to cooperate later on a more permanent arrangement, such as a donation in fee or conservation restriction.

Leases are recorded in the Registry of Deeds and remain in force until their expiration date, even if the land’s title is conveyed. Land leased for public use is typically relieved of property tax obligation. No income or estate tax deduction can be claimed due to the temporary nature of the lease.

d) Remainder Interest/Reserved Life Estate

A landowner can give or sell land to a town while retaining the right to live on or use the property for the rest of his or her life. The landowner keeps a “reserved life estate,” while transferring the remainder interest to the Town. The landowner receives a charitable deduction for the value of the land minus the value of the life estate (based on IRS actuarial tables) and minus any depreciation. The landowner typically must still pay property taxes and maintenance costs.

Reserved life estates are typically used by elderly landowners who still need their home, but not their land. Benefits to the community include immediate access to the property and knowledge that, eventually, full control will result.

e) Options/Rights of First Refusal

An option is a right, but not an obligation, to purchase a property at an agreed upon price at a specific time. Options allow a town or land trust the time needed to raise funds for a parcel it knows it wants to acquire. Options are particularly useful in times of development pressure and rising realty markets because they lock in a price and take the land off the market. The Town pays a nominal price for the option itself to indicate genuine intent, and records the option. Landowners derive no tax incentives from this technique, but many landowners would prefer to sell their property for conservation than for development.

Rights of first refusal similarly can buy time for the town to assemble acquisition funds, but are less certain than options. These agreements set neither a purchase price nor an execution date. The town cannot determine when the owner will decide to sell the land – now, later or never – but it gives the public the right to determine the land’s fate if and when that time comes. No tax incentives accrue to the landowner from these agreements; civic cooperation may be the only motivation.

f) Current Use Assessment Programs

Working forests, farms and private recreation lands often receive preferential tax treatment under the current use assessment programs (respectively, under MGL c.61, 61A, 61B.) These programs enable local assessors to value open lands in their current state rather than at their “highest and best use,” which in Dennis generally means as a housing development or commercial establishment. It is similar to a conservation restriction program, in that it is employed strictly at the owner’s request. Differences include: no benefit as income tax or estate tax deductions; annual application is necessary; and, the town has automatic right of first refusal in the event of a conversion to another use. A major advantage is that eligibility criteria and property tax reductions are simple and standard throughout the state:

c.61- Ten acres of woodland with a state-approved forest management plan; 95% tax reduction plus stumpage fee,

c.61A- Five acres in agricultural production grossing $500 annually; reduction based on crop type,

c.61B- Five acres used for public recreation or resource protection; 75% reduction.

The disadvantage is that property owners can withdraw from the program at any time. About 135 acres in Dennis are enrolled in the farmland assessment program. An additional 16 acres are eligible but not enrolled.

No large, managed woodlands exist in Dennis, so ch. 61 is not applicable. A few private small farms are too small to be assessed under c. 61A, including the The Tree Farm, a Christmas tree farm off Highbank Road. Most of the cranberry bogs in Dennis are under five acres in area and so are not eligible for enrollment under 61A. There are currently no enrollments under Ch. 61B for private recreation lands or open spaces. This latter program could be easily expanded since neither public access nor active recreation have to be engaged in on the qualifying 5-acre parcels.

g) Differential Assessment Programs

Private retention of open land could be stimulated by Special Act 797 of 1979, which provides the Selectmen with an option to tax open or vacant land at a rate up to 15 percent less than residentially-developed land. It is based on the premise that developed land requires more municipal services and should generate more taxes than open land. The advantage to this program is that it applies indiscriminately throughout the town; everyone gets a tax break for keeping land undeveloped whether they want it or not. The drawback is that the open space rate reduction of 15 percent is much smaller than the discount offered by other techniques, such as conservation restrictions.

In 1990, five Massachusetts communities (Bedford, Concord, Norton, Nantucket and Somerset) used this classification program. It is an equitable conservation option that need not cost the Town a penny. The Town’s total tax revenue remains the same; more of the burden is simply shifted onto developed properties. Dennis has not utilized a differential in tax rates to date.

3) Private Conservation Organizations

The local land conservation trust is playing an important role in shaping open space protection in Dennis. As a private organization, the Dennis Conservation Trust (DCT) can work separately from town government, while pursuing shared goals. As a charitable group recognized by the IRS since 1986, it can offer similar tax advantages as the town to a landowner for gifts of land. Land trusts are directly involved in acquiring and managing land for its natural, recreational, scenic or historical qualities. DCT is supported by public memberships and directed by a board of volunteer citizens. The DCT has protected 491.48 acres of land through ownership or the holder of perpetual conservation easements.

What can non-profit groups do that town agencies cannot? First, they can work quietly and confidentially with landowners, forging relationships patiently (sometimes hard to do in government circles) that may result in open space protection, such as a land donation. Second, these groups are an attractive alternative for landowners skeptical about working with “government.” Non-profits are not susceptible to the same type of political pressure to which a town agency may be subjected, such as converting town conservation land to another use. Finally, these groups can be instrumental in performing much of the pre-acquisition work needed for a town to purchase land, including surveys, title exams, appraisals and options.

DCT is a member of The Compact of Cape Cod Conservation Trusts, which provides technical assistance and professional expertise on matters relating to planning, land acquisition and management, and non-profit administration in addition to linking them to their counterparts across Barnstable County. These groups should supplement, not supplant, the town’s role in implementing the Open Space and Recreation Plan.

The Massachusetts Audubon Society is a statewide land trust, dating to 1895, which has a strong presence on Cape Cod (primarily in Wellfleet, Falmouth, Centerville and Sandwich). Its presence in Dennis is minor, but its holdings near Fresh Pond augment important Town and DCT lands.

C. Summary of Community Needs

Dennis is a small town, with great natural beauty, and large numbers of its residents would like it to stay that way. The town’s wonderful views and environment of native plants and wildlife are aspects which residents and visitors wholeheartedly enjoy. Many of its important natural resources, including beaches, woods, fish, and shellfish are also recreational resources. These have an economic aspect as well, as Dennis has many businesses that serve the tourist attracted by its unique charm and beauty. The purpose of this plan is to identify means by which to protect these valuable resources which are vital to the town’s environment, while promoting appropriate use of these resources to enhance the town’s communal well-being.

In 2007, the Town undertook a survey of community perceptions of town open space and recreational facilities and needs. The respondents to the survey tended to come from older households and was more heavily bent towards year-round resident respondents. The survey resulted in a number of findings that are summarized below as part of the community needs summary. The survey found that the town beaches were the most heavily used by town residents and visitors with over 90% of the respondents stating they made use of these facilities. This was followed closely by town conservation lands (80%) and parks and playgrounds (69.2%).

Which town facilities do you use?
Town beaches 90.8%
Private beaches 30%
Conservation Lands 80%
Town Marinas 20%
Town Boat landings 30%
Private Boat Landings 8.5%
Parks Playgrounds etc. 69.2%

The survey also asked respondents to tell us how they would rate the condition of town facilities. While beaches rated well, with a near excellent rating, parks and playgrounds, general open space and boat facilities all rate closer to being only in fair condition.

How do you rate Dennis Recreation Facilities? (1 excellent, 2 fair 3 poor)
Beaches 1.35
Parks and playgrounds 1.73
Boat Facilities 1.77
General Open Space 1.91

Respondents to the survey were less committal when it came to being able to pick a greatest future recreational need. Although survey respondents overwhelmingly agreed that the town needed to protect more open lands (71%) and construct more bicycle facilities (77.7%), the town was split between beaches and open space as the highest priority.

What do you consider the greatest future recreational need? (1 high, 3 low)
General Open Space 1.5
Beaches 1.53
Town Parks 1.62
Neighborhood Parks 1.71
Other (tennis courts etc) 1.75
Boating Facilities 2.35

Many of the questions in the survey were asked in different manners in order to more fully understand public concerns and desires (for example the initial question in the survey asked specifically and only about open space acquisition which was supported by 71% of the respondents, and a question that only asked about bicycle facilities generated 77.7% positive response rate). The above items were expounded upon in a later question in the survey which reinforced the priority established for bicycles as noted below. Clearly bicycle trails and conservation areas, rated high by over half of all respondents show a strong continued need. However, this particular question illustrated significant support for local neighborhood parks, increase public access to the water and the construction of a recreational center building.

Ranking of Top Facilities needs:
Bike Trails 60%
Conservation Areas 56.2%
Local Neighborhood parks 36.2%
Public access areas to water bodies for boating or fishing 35.4%
Recreation Center Building 34.6%
Family picnic areas 26.2%
Town Common 25.4%
Hiking and skiing trails 23.8%
Swimming pool 20.8%
Children’s Play areas 18.5%
Large park with many facilities 16.9%
Fields for soccer, softball, baseball and football 16.9%
Dog park 10.8%
Outdoor amphitheater 10.8%
Tennis courts 7.7%
Campgrounds 7.7%
Ice skating facilities 6.9%
Hunting areas 3.1%

The Town of Dennis maintains a number of access points to the water. These access points range from limited access facilities for canoes and kayaks to operating a major marina. The survey was responded to by 99 users of these facilities. Overall these users felt that the facilities were inadequate, either lacking in ramp facilities or moorings.

What is your opinion of present boating facilities in Dennis?
Facilities adequate 43.4%
Lacking Ramp Facilities 21.2%
Lacking sufficient moorings 35.4%

The town provides a community garden site for town residents. The property, Shoop Gardens has been identified in the facility survey as needing improved access benches and other facilities for the disabled. The community survey however illustrated little support for such facilities with only 36% stating they either currently use the facility or would be interested in using such a facility. However, this response should take into consideration the fact that the town is largely composed of homes on individual plots of land with adequate space for personal garden areas. The town should consider that the community gardens provide needed facilities for the poor and elderly who may not live in single family homes with available land for gardens as it judges the priority of these facilities.

Would you use community gardens?
Already use them 6.9%
Yes 29.2%
No 62.3%

Community satisfaction with town recreational programs and facilities illustrate that town residents do not have a strong feeling one way or another about the variety or amount of these facilities. The numbers below suggest that the town needs to take some steps to improve community satisfaction – especially with the maintenance of facilities. While this particular response does not state it, a very frequently heard complaint in town is that the town is unable to maintain the lands it currently owns and needs to bolster its facility maintenance abilities – a need recognized by the town as well.

How satisfied are you with: (1 Very Satisfied   3 Not satisfied)
The variety and/or amount of existing recreational programs 1.89
The variety and/or amount of existing recreational facilities 2.02
Maintenance of passive recreational facilities 2.07
Maintenance of active recreational facilities 2.12

A follow-up question related to this issue illustrated just how strongly people felt about placing a priority on improving and maintaining existing facilities whether for active recreational facilities or conservation purposes.

Should our Town’s priorities for expenditure be: (1 highest priority, 3 lowest priority)
Improve/maintain existing active recreational facilities 1.37
Improve/maintain existing conservation lands 1.47
Acquire conservation lands for passive recreation use 1.94
Acquire land for and/or build new active recreational facilities 2.22

The Dennis Beach and Recreation Department has identified a number of maintenance needs at the Dennis beaches. In particular, most of the beach parking lots need to be resurfaced in order to continue to adequately serve beach goers. In addition, the bulkhead at the West Dennis Beach needs to be repaired. Engineering cost estimates are being developed for this project. It is expected that if the bulkhead is not repaired within the next few years, the resident parking area at the Beach will be lost. A number of the beaches on the south side are also lacking relative to handicap accessibility.

Several recent acquisitions are also in need of facility improvements. The town acquired the Sea View Park with the idea of providing a number of both passive and active recreational facilities. The town has received both Community Preservation Act and Urban Self Help Grant funding for the construction of a play area, picnic area, community gardens and trails at Sea View Park. This project will be under construction during the early stages of this Open Space and Recreation Plan. Future improvements at this property would be to improve handicap accessibility to the Sea View Park Beach now named the Cliff Metcalf Memorial Beach.

The town also recently acquired the former Howlin’ Howies property at the juncture of the Bass River and Route 28. Now renamed Bass River Park, the town is developing plans to convert this former commercial site back to its natural state. The town now maintains the boat slips on this site under the auspices of the Harbormaster’s Office. In addition, the town contracts with a private operator the leasing of kayaks and canoes from this property. The plans call for trails, a picnic pavilion and an environmentally sensitive parking lot to replace the existing paved areas on this site.

Prior to acquiring these properties, the town acquired the MelPet Farm property along Route 134. The property now remains as vacant pasture land. The barn that had been a part of the farm had been located on property the town deeded to the Dennis Housing Authority. However, in early 2008 the town re-acquired the Housing Authority parcel and has, as of the May 2008 Annual Town Meeting, transferred the barn back into a common parcel with the pasture. The town hopes to re-establish the use of the stables and pastures for horses during the time period covered by this plan.

The town has acquired several parcels of land within the Crowe’s Pasture area since the adoption of the last Open Space and Recreation Plan. The town has also adopted a management plan for this pasture area which has included the use of heavy equipment to clear underbrush, widening and regrading the access roads. This area is open to off-road vehicles which provides some level of handicap accessibility to the beaches. However, overall this property is very inaccessible.

parkingThe recreational needs of Dennis’s aging population can perhaps best be met by incorporating sensitive design features into open space and recreation areas, such as handicapped access, resting benches and sidewalks. Simple items like safe crosswalks across busy streets, beach boardwalks and surf chairs are other examples.

1. Special Needs: Access by the Disabled

The federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1991 states that public facilities, including town lands, should meet federal guidelines for accessibility for handicapped persons. The Town’s goal is to implement this law by having an example of each type of outdoor facility accessible to handicapped persons, and eventually to have every open space area accessible, wherever feasible. For example, Scargo Lake has a very shallow grade from a nearby parking area to water’s edge for swimming, making it a more practical site to offer handicapped access. On its open space and recreation properties, the Town remains committed to providing full experiential access, wherever environmentally and financially feasible. Most of the Kelley Park has been made accessible, including the bathrooms, and the Park includes the “braille trail,” a perimeter level walking path with interpretive signs along its length. As Dennis upgrades facilities at each of its recreational properties, accessibility will be a top priority. Facilities at West Dennis Beach have been improved to add accessibility, similar improvements are planned for Mayflower and Corporation Beaches as well.

In 1997, the Conservation, Recreation and Parks Departments conducted the town’s first-ever disabled access inventory of lands under their control which experience the most usage. This survey has been updated as part of this 2008 Open Space and Recreation Plan Update. The survey identify needed upgrades of facilities, contingent upon available staff and funding. The Town is committed, however, to ensuring that any new recreational facility development will be designed to meet ADA codes.117a

D. Management Needs/Potential Change of Use

Daily maintenance of conservation areas falls to the town Natural Resources Department and Dennis Department of Public Works (litter and trash collection), with policy guidance from the Conservation Commission. Part of the land management problem stems from a lack of available staff to act as steward for the large number of town properties. Illegal dumping continues to be a problem. The town has found that it needs to balance its costs for proper disposal of trash at the town transfer station with the reality that if trash disposal costs are too high, then illegal dumping increases. The town has taken aggressive steps to track down illegal dumpers, however, the town may want to ask Town Meeting to deputize other town officials, such as health agents, in addition to police and harbormasters, to bolster enforcement of MGL c. 270 s. 16, which designates fines and vehicle seizure for illegal dumping on public land. Other towns have addressed the situation by enlisting volunteer stewards to adopt specific parcels. Making people aware of Dennis’s fine holdings might go a long way in making people feel more invested in the lands’ stewardship. The Dennis Natural Resources Department provides trail maps to interested parties illustrating the location of trails on town properties as well as illustrating possible connections between properties. Cape Cod Pathways can also be a unifying force in rallying practical support.

In 1997, the town Beach Department implemented an Adopt-A-Beach program to create a sense of community among groups interested in safe and clean beaches and to augment the regular maintenance work conducted by the Dennis Department of Public Works. This program is also designed to protect the flora and fauna of the areas, mitigate the effects of erosion and enhance the natural beauty of the town beaches. Projects and responsibilities of the volunteer guardians include spring and fall clean-ups, plantings, other beautification projects and information signs naming the stewards.118 Erosion – both storm-related and chronic– particularly at West Dennis Beach, but also at Corporation, Chapin and Cold Storage Beaches on the Northside, is a major ongoing issue.119 Historically, the Bass River has been affected by sedimentation from West Dennis Beach. Channel dredging for the mouth of Bass River is one technique the town has used to alleviate some of the sediment scarcity at West Dennis Beach, since the beach is approved as a spoil receiving site for compatible sands.

The 2007 survey, and annual comments made to the Selectmen illustrate that the town needs to do more to maintain its public facilities. The town is trying to build in to the use of the Bass River Park a mechanism to maintain the park, inviting a private operator onto the site to raise revenue on the property that can be dedicated to maintaining the property. The town should explore other opportunities for such public/private ventures. One example raised during the rezoning of Dennisport Village Center was the recognition that the future of this particular area relies upon the ability to accommodate waste water. One possible joint effort would be to allow for use of undeveloped portions of Mike Stacey Park for leaching facilities, in exchange for long term maintenance by the properties taking advantage of this option. Another example would be the leasing of MelPet Farm to a private entity to maintain the farm stables, fences and pasture for the training and boarding of horses.

Open space in Dennis has been acquired for specific resource protection purposes. While the town holds some properties for “general municipal purposes,” land acquired for preservation has generally been acquired with clear restrictions on future uses. Town holdings, such as along Bob Crowell Road, may be used in the future for recreation purposes or affordable housing, however parcels acquired for watershed or other resource protection purposes will not be transferred for non-resource protection purposes.

E. Waterways Needs

The Cape is an ever-shifting sandbar. As discussed in Section 4, there are significant geological changes taking place continuously, which is clearly illustrated within the coastal waterways and the ever changing shoreline. The Dennis Harbormaster is charged with the responsibility of maintaining access to the Dennis recreational waters. This responsibility comes with a significant set of issues from identifying the most critical water bodies impacted by erosion and sedimentation, to prioritizing dredging, to knowing how to dispose the dredge spoils.

The Dennis Harbormaster’s Office has identified the following locations that represent significant erosion and sedimentation problems that need on-going dredging:

1. Channel of Bass River (mouth)

2. Old Field Channel / south of Stage Island

3. Weir Creek

4. Uncle Freeman’s Landing

5. Ferry Street just south of Bass River Bridge

6. Bass River Park slip and channel area

7. Wrinkle Point Channel

8. Horsefoot Cove Landing

9. Aunt Julia’s Landing

10. Grand Cove Channel

11. Cove Road Bar

12. Little Cove Channel

13. Highbank Bar

14. Blue Rock Channel

15. Kelly’s Bay Channel north of Rt. #6 Bridge

16. Follin’s Pond Narrows

17. Swan River

18. Sesuit Harbor Outer Channel

19. Sesuit Harbor Inner Basin

The Harbormaster has identified the following issues related to handling dredge materials:

Disposal sites: If the town is to pursue dredging, the town needs to know where it will dispose of the material, the options include Near Shore, Off Shore, Beach Nourishment and Dewatering as alternatives. Each of these come with their own issues as follows.

Near Shore: This type of disposal requires an approved site issued by all the regulatory agencies. There is only one near shore site in Cape Cod Bay. This site will only accept sand.

Off Shore: This type of disposal also requires an approved site issued by all the regulatory agencies. There is only one off shore site in Cape Cod Bay. This site will accept mud, muck and brackish silt.

Beach Nourishment: Beach Nourishment requires an approved site stated with a Chapter 91 / Army Corps of Engineers Permit. The permit needs to identify the name and location of the beach to be nourished and must go through the state and federal permitting process.

Dewatering: This type of disposal requires an approved location that allows water to drain from dredging material that will be later be hauled away and disposed of in a designated pit.

The Harbormaster’s Office has identified the following dredging needs to maintain the existing commercial and recreational boating activities within the Dennis town waters:

Bass River Dredging Needs

Permitting In Place (May need additional water quality tests and soil analysis)

1. Bass River Channel 25,000 yards @ $ 7 per yard = $175,000

2. Old Field Channel 20,000 yards @ $7 per yard = $140,000

3. Weir Creek 10,000 yards @ $7 per yard = $ 70,000

4. Uncle Freeman’s 31,000 yards @ $11 per yard = $341,000

5. Ferry Street 18,000 yards @ $11 per yard = $198.000

6. Bass River Park 22,000 yards @ $11 per yard = $242,000

Total Dredging Cost $1,166,000

In Need of Permitting

7. Wrinkle Point Channel No cost data

8. Horsefoot Cove Landing 36,000 yards @ $7 per yard = $252,000

9. Aunt Julia’s Landing 24,000 yards @ $7 per yard = $168,000

10. Grand Cove Channel 30,000 yards @ $7 per yard = $210,000

11. Cove Road Bar 18,000 yards @ $7 per yard = $126,000

12. Little Cove Channel 12,000 yards @ $7 per yard = $ 84,000

13. Highbank Bar 10,000 yards @ $7 per yard = $ 70,000

14. Blue Rock Channel 30,000 yards @ $7 per yard = $210,000

15. Kelly’s Bay 30,000 yards @ $7 per yard = $210,000

16. Follin’s Pond Narrows 25,000 yards @ $7 per yard = $175,000

Total Dredging Costs $1,505,000.00

Bass River Total $ 2,671,000.00

Swan River 25,000 cubic yards @ 11.00 = $ 275.000

Swan River permitting is in process at agency level.

Sesuit Harbor

There are three different dredge permit areas. One is private permit for a commercial business. Two of the permits are under Town control..

Town owned 1. Sesuit outer channel (Federal Channel)

80,000 cubic yards @ $7 per yard = $ 560.000

2. Sesuit inner basin from East side ramp in and around Town Marina also including inner mooring basin to be dewatered at Town parking lot, and trucked to Town pit.

100,000 cubic yards @ $11 per yard locally = $ 1,100,000


If these spoils are determined to not be suitable for dewatering and has to be transported off to a far shore site. The price of a cubic yard may be in upwards of $ 50 per cubic yard. This would change the total cost to be around $ 5,000,000.

107 Nancy Thacher Reid, Dennis, Cape Cod: From Firstcomers to Newcomers 1639-1993, Dennis Historical Society, 1996, p. 688.

108 The Register newspaper, November 16, 1989.

109 Town of Dennis, Land Acquisition Committee, “List of Desirable Open Space as Determined by the Land Acquisition Committee,” 1989.

110 The Register newspaper, March 15, 1990.

110A 301 Code of Massachusetts Regulations 5.09(1).

111 Partners for Cape Cod Pathways, “Connecting the Cape: Tax Benefits for Landowners,” (Barnstable, 1996.)

117a Personal communication, Dustin Pineau, Dennis Recreation Director, February 18, 1998.

118 Carolyn Banks, “Town of Dennis Adopt-A-Beach Program,” in Heart Beat, a newsletter of the Dennis Chamber of Commerce, Spring 1997, p. 4.

119 Personal communication, Harry Allen, Recreation Director (acting), September 9, 1997.

Edited June 18, 2009


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