TRURO — Approval of a comprehensive permit for the 39-unit rental housing development known as the Cloverleaf on Highland Road in North Truro seems almost guaranteed. Counsel for the zoning board of appeals is drafting a decision for review and a possible final vote next week, on Dec. 17.
Of the five ZBA members who will vote on the permit, only John Thornley has expressed reservations about it. In a letter to the board that he said he wrote as a private citizen, he suggested that the town pay to extend the municipal water system to the nearby Professional Heights and Pond Village neighborhoods, where fears about drinking water quality have been fanned by opponents of the housing development.
Thornley’s letter suggested town water be extended to the west end of Pond Road so that the water quality for the Pond Village neighborhood “would no longer be in any way affected by Cloverleaf effluent and no longer be a health issue.”
In fact, no evidence has been presented to the ZBA in a year of meetings on the proposal showing that effluent from Cloverleaf would affect those wells.
Thornley said that the cost of that public water line should be borne by the town.
His fellow board members did not seem receptive to his idea. Chair Art Hultin said extending the public water line was “off topic.”
Thornley’s letter was not the only last-minute surprise during the discussion on Dec. 3.
Mark Nelson, the engineer who conducted a peer review of the alternative septic treatment system at the Cloverleaf, said the system could be further refined to reduce the “effluent concentration” to an average of five parts per million. For a traditional septic system, that number is 35 parts per million.
John O’Reilly, the project engineer, said the cost of such refinements would not be a burden to the developer, but maintenance and management costs would increase. “It’s not insurmountable at this point,” said Ted Malone, president of Community Housing Resource.
The ZBA did not rule on whether to require the upgraded system. Hultin said that would be addressed before the board issues a comprehensive permit.
A number of neighbors continued to raise objections, outlined in a two-page letter signed by the “Members of the Pond Village Watershed Community.”
“It really seems like we’ve covered most of these points repeatedly,” said Hultin to the letter writers.
David Kirshner of Twine Field Road said he objected to the way that Pond Village residents have been blamed for poor water quality because of their own outdated septic systems and cesspools.
“This is baseless and deeply unsettling,” Kirshner said. “The town and the board of health have been fully aware of these issues since at least 2016 and done nothing to address them.”
Hultin responded by saying no one is blaming anyone. But the fact is, he added, the water quality problem in Pond Village is pre-existing.
Kirshner asked that the ZBA require the developer to do a hydrological study of the Pond Village watershed.
To this, Health Agent Emily Beebe responded that because the wastewater treatment system designed for the Cloverleaf will make it so there are no effects on nearby private wells, “it doesn’t appear that there is a need for a hydrogeologic study.” No other treatment system in town is capable of treating effluent to the high degree that the proposed Cloverleaf system will. “I don’t understand why people aren’t hearing this,” Beebe said.
Scott Warner, also of Twine Field Road, said the proposed wastewater system had been tested at only one place, but Beebe replied that the system had been tested and approved by the state Dept. of Environmental Protection and used in many projects.
Warner also said he feared that Cloverleaf tenants would dump harmful chemicals down their drains. Because they would be renters, he argued, they would be less likely to care for the property.
“It seems that an individual homeowner that installs a system can understand and police what goes down their own drains,” Warner said.
Hank Keenan and Karen Ruymann made similar arguments.
ZBA member Fred Todd said the suggestion that tenants would not be decent citizens and respect the water was offensive.
The board will reconvene on Dec. 17 at 5:30 p.m. to vote on the permit with a set of conditions and waivers from the Truro Zoning Bylaw. Under Chapter 40B, projects that include a minimum of 20 to 25 percent affordable units may receive such waivers as long as certain health and safety conditions are met. Thirty-two of 39 Cloverleaf units — 82 percent — will be income restricted.