TRURO — It looked as if the planning board might not approve a plan to build a new 5,124-square-foot house in the National Seashore at its June 8 meeting, so attorney Ben Zehnder, representing the as-yet-unnamed owners, staved off a decision by asking for a continuance to June 22.
The extra two weeks, he said, would allow him to ask the new owners of 17 Coast Guard Road whether they wanted to trim the plan to make it more palatable or forge ahead with what was on the table.
At issue is a proposal to demolish five of six cottages on the 6.3-acre property, formerly known as the Hi-Land View cottage colony, and build a one-story beach house with a swimming pool. The remaining cottage would be converted to a pool house.
Just who owns the property is a mystery. The Outer Shore Nominee Trust purchased it for $5 million last summer. Boston attorney Rachel Kalin is listed as a trustee on the deed. The same trust also purchased 3.5 acres at 23 Coast Guard Road for $2.9 million, where a house is currently undergoing a major renovation.
While Kalin is the sole named trustee for Outer Shore, she probably isn’t the owner of the two properties. Nominee trusts in Massachusetts are structured so that the owners are generally the “beneficiaries,” whose decisions are carried out by trustees. Trust beneficiaries, as in this case, aren’t disclosed, even in the documents at the registry of deeds.
All the applications submitted to the town related to 17 and 23 Coast Guard Road have come from the Outer Shore Nominee Trust, listing only Kalin’s name. Staff in the town’s planning and building departments said they had no information on who is behind the trust or who will be living on the two properties.
A person answering the phone at Kalin’s office said the attorney had “no plans to disclose any information” regarding whether she owns the property or who the trust beneficiaries might be.
Outer Shore needs site plan approval from the planning board and two special permits from the zoning board of appeals. One special permit would allow the demolition of five cottages, conversion of the remaining cottage to a pool house, and construction of a single-family house. The second permit would be for exceeding the gross floor area allowed by right in the National Seashore District.
Under Truro’s zoning bylaw, the gross floor area allowed by right on the property is 4,260 square feet. But the bylaw allows for up to an additional 1,000 square feet by special permit, depending on the total acreage. The ZBA has continued a hearing on the two permits to June 27, because it cannot take action until the planning board approves the site plan.
None of the seven planning board members appeared to be fully in favor of the project as proposed, but some felt there wasn’t much they could do about it, due to the limits of the board’s authority under site plan review. “It can’t be denied unless it can’t be reasonably conditioned,” said Town Planner Barbara Carboni. In other words, the site plan could be rejected only if there were no conditions under which it could be approved, she said.
That was the difficulty, said board member Ellery Althaus. “There’s really only so much we can do without changing the bylaw,” he said. “It’s more or less in keeping with the bylaw. I don’t like it, but I’ll have to vote for it.”
Planning board chair Anne Greenbaum said she didn’t like the size of the house or that there would be a swimming pool. Still, she said, “It’s on a big lot, and it’s allowed if the zoning board approves the square footage.” She said she would vote to approve the site plan.
“They could have proposed a house with half the square footage that stuck up like a sore thumb in the area,” Greenbaum said. “At least this one is low and respectful of the topography.”
Newly elected board member Caitlin Townsend said she would also vote in favor, as long as it included some conditions suggested by Carboni.
Two other members of the board said they would vote against site plan approval.
Vice chair Richard Roberts said the actual square footage of the house was 10,900. He arrived at that figure by adding to the 5,124-square-foot house the planned 2,700 square feet of “mechanical space” and more than 3,000 square feet for the garage, pool house, porches, and overhangs.
“I think we have a house size bylaw in the Seashore District to prevent this very thing,” said Roberts, “and I will be voting against it.”
Wellfleet also limits the size of houses in the National Seashore, and its regulation includes garages, accessory buildings, decks, and porches in the calculation of square footage. But Truro’s bylaw, Zehnder said, specifically excludes those areas if they don’t constitute living space.
Board member Paul Kiernan also said he would vote against the plan. “This house is 40 to 50 percent bigger than the average size house,” he said. “It’s building to the maximum.”
Lighting also was discussed. Greenbaum asked whether the house would have curtains to prevent light from spilling out and marring the night sky. Carboni said she didn’t think that a requirement to draw the curtains at night could be made a condition.
Board member Jack Riemer asked about outdoor lighting, noting that people frequently have pool parties. Characterizing Riemer’s questions as “Jay Gatsby coming from the grave,” Zehnder said there could be a condition regarding temporary lighting for special occasions.
Riemer didn’t say whether he would vote in favor of or against site plan approval, and the seventh board member, Bruce Boleyn, was completely silent during the discussion.
With only three board members on the record as favoring approval, Zehnder was unwilling to take the chance of falling short of the four votes needed.
The board agreed to delay a formal vote and to continue the hearing to June 22.