HARWICH — Securing Cape Cod’s future could require more tall buildings, a new system to pay for infrastructure, and an easier way for developers to understand what they’re getting into, according to speakers at an economic summit Monday.
Regional planners, business leaders and politicians pitched a plateful of sometimes eyebrow-raising ideas during the all-day Smarter Economy Conference at Wequassett Resort and Golf Club. Outside, the summerlike day and picturesque view of Pleasant Bay could have been a PowerPoint slide during one of the presentations.
The conference, which follows a series of similar “smarter” summits organized by the Cape Cod Commission, Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, other organizations and businesses, ran the gamut, including discussion of the need for more affordable housing, references to controversial local debates over wind energy, the siting of aquaculture, traffic congestion and the commission’s role in development.
But most speakers repeatedly returned to the ideas of balance and opportunity as well as the driving forces behind the Cape’s economy: water, tourism and an aging demographic.
Keynote speaker state Sen. Daniel Wolf, D-Harwich, reiterated many of the arguments included in his legislative efforts and foiled bid for governor: raising the minimum wage, investing in infrastructure, changing the way the region gets its energy, adapting to climate change and changing the tax system.
“There’s no point in having a great vision of the future if we don’t have a way to pay for it,” he said.
Wolf called for a place at the table for labor and more investment in early childhood education.
Some speakers took a contrarian stance on local development.
“The Cape’s largest strategic advantage is the number of people who want to retire here,” said Bill Carlson, an engineer and real estate investor.
He argued that the Cape should strive to increase its population by 20 to 50 percent, increase building heights and require that developers pay for new sewers.
Developers would gladly pay for the infrastructure if they were allowed to build what they wanted, he said. All that development, however, should be limited to 5 percent of the Cape’s land mass, he said.
And that third automobile bridge many Cape business leaders and planners envision? Don’t do it. Instead try to reduce the number of vehicles coming to the region, Carlson said.
The conference was meant to get people talking and to take the next step in developing the Cape’s economy, Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce CEO Wendy Northcross said during a break.
“We expect there to be pushback,” said Northcross, who has spearheaded calls for the third automobile bridge. “You’ve got to throw these big ideas out there.”
It’s important to look at redevelopment opportunities on the Cape, she said, adding that the chamber would help get the word out about locations where there’s consensus on development.
“We can really go to town marketing that,” she said.
But it’s equally important to remember what draws visitors to the Cape, she said.
“The word water comes in over and over and over again,” she said.
She suggested that a business-ready area close to the shore could differentiate the Cape from other locations.
Northcross and Cape Cod Commission Executive Director Paul Niedzwiecki noted that earlier summits focused primarily on ways to improve the technology infrastructure needed by businesses. With the broadband network known as OpenCape now in place, the next step is laying out specific locations where businesses can set up shop without damaging the environment, Niedzwiecki said.
During the second half of the day Niedzwiecki introduced a web-based application known as FRED or Flexible Regional Economic Development. It divides the Cape into mile-wide hexagons scored for economic development based on 17 factors in three categories. Computer users can click on each hexagon to see how areas rate for development, he said.
“The smarter part of this conference is about how are we going to grow,” Niedzwiecki said. “It’s not about allowing anything anywhere.”
That might mean taller buildings but ensuring they are located where they don’t affect views, where density already exists or where towns want them, Niedzwiecki said.