TRURO — On the eve of the expected approval of what would be the town’s largest affordable housing development, a group calling itself Concerned Members of the Pond Village Watershed Community has hired an attorney to represent its interests before the zoning board of appeals and possibly in court.
The Pond Village group has sent letters to the ZBA critical of the 39-unit Cloverleaf apartment complex; 75 people appear to have signed a Nov. 5, 2020 letter. It’s not clear, however, how many of them are paying for the attorney, Jason Talerman, or whether they plan to appeal the ZBA’s likely approval of a comprehensive permit for the project. Talerman is a partner at Mead, Talerman and Costa, with offices in Newburyport and Millis.
At the ZBA’s Jan. 7 meeting, Patti Bellinger, who owns a waterfront home on Pond Road assessed at $1.9 million, introduced Talerman, saying, “I’ve asked Jay to represent our interests.”
Talerman declined to name the people who have hired him.
Bellinger told the ZBA her group wants the proposed wastewater system at the Cloverleaf to treat the effluent so that, on average, it reduces the concentration of nitrogen to 5 milligrams per liter (mg/L). And, she said, if the treatment system should fail, “We want to make sure that there is a very strong, fail-safe backup plan.”
“We vehemently support the notion of affordable housing,” Bellinger added, “not only in Truro but at the location that has already been chosen.”
Bellinger did not return an email or phone call to her office at Harvard University, where she is the chief of staff for President Lawrence Bacow. Talerman said his clients do not wish to appeal the expected approval of the project permit. But, he added, he has no “crystal ball.”
“If I had an opportunity to work with [acting town planner] Barbara Carboni, I’d love to collaborate with her,” Talerman said. “It would be our fondest desire not to challenge the [approval].”
The Cloverleaf has been the subject of more than a year of hearings before the ZBA. Carboni, an attorney with KP Law, told the ZBA on Jan. 7 that she was drafting the final language for its decision. ZBA Chair Art Hultin told his colleagues they would be voting on the matter this Thursday, Jan. 14. Abutters to the Highland Road site of the housing development would have the right to appeal in either Mass. Land Court or Barnstable Superior Court.
More often than not, when abutters appeal a decision, the legal fees to defend the board involved are paid by the developer, Talerman said. But in this case, because it has been so supportive of the project, the town may cover legal fees, he said. Either way, the project would be delayed, which would increase costs to the developer, Community Housing Resource of Provincetown, the town, or both.
The major issue facing the board is a requested waiver of the town’s wastewater regulations. The ZBA required the developer to use an alternative treatment system, and then required that treatment system to be peer reviewed by another engineer, Mark Nelson of the Horsley Witten Group.
According to both the developer’s engineer, John O’Reilly, and Nelson, the system is capable of treating wastewater so that it would reduce the nitrogen level in effluent to 5 mg/L. This conclusion was based on reviews of existing systems that are similar in design and use. That degree of treatment exceeds standard Title 5 septic systems, which reduce nitrogen in effluent to 35 mg/L, according to Brian Baumgaertel, director of the Mass. Alternative Septic System Test Center in Mashpee.
The Pond Village group, however, argues that the pond itself, which their homes surround, already has low water quality and the nitrogen levels in many of the wells surrounding the pond are high.
Mary Ann Larkin, who lives at 12 Pond Road, said her water was recently tested at 3.6 mg/L. The Environmental Protection Agency’s established limit for safe consumption is 10 mg/L.
Larkin’s husband, Patric Pepper, said he had “been told” that the EPA considers water with more than 3 mg/L “contaminated.” Pressed on who had told Pepper that number, Larkin said that her husband was “confused.”
A group that formed during the review process of the Cloverleaf calling itself “Docs for Truro Safe Water” has put out statements saying that the 10 mg/L standard is outdated. But their work has been questioned by various authorities including Tim Pasakarnis, a water resources analyst for the Cape Cod Commission. He told the Independent on Dec. 17 that he had never in his research found a jurisdiction anywhere that requires a lower nitrogen level than 10 mg/L.
It was reports of the nitrogen level dispute that caused Marilyn Miller, who lives at 13 Pond Road, to have her name removed from an Oct. 5 letter opposing the Cloverleaf from the Concerned Members of the Pond Village Watershed Community. She said she had not given permission for her name to be there in the first place, and asked Larkin to remove it.
Asked why she is not opposed to the Cloverleaf housing development, Miller, a former reporter for the Provincetown Banner, said, “I read up on it.”