PROVINCETOWN — A proposal for a major mixed-use development on the former Old Reliable Fish House property, which was embraced by permitting boards as well as the public, is entering its fourth year of litigation in state Land Court because of appeals by abutters.
Negotiations between the parties have broken down, according to project developer Christine Barker and abutting property owner Patrick Patrick. Now Barker has asked the court to let her return to the Provincetown Planning Board to seek a new special permit under the town’s inclusionary and incentive bylaw that could make the existing variance from height requirements that she received from the zoning board of appeals last year unnecessary.
The judge granted her request, and the project should be returning to the planning board for the third time in just a few weeks.
Barker’s proposal calls for the demolition of the existing building at 227R Commercial St., which has been vacant for years and was condemned after a fire in 2015. In its place, she proposes to build a 31-room hotel, four residential condominiums, a restaurant and bar, a meeting space, and some parking underneath the building. The three-story structure would be elevated out of the coastal floodplain according to FEMA standards, with its lowest beams about nine feet above ground level at the site, and the property’s derelict pier would be reconstructed to a length of 264 feet.
The zoning board of appeals approved Barker’s proposal in December 2019 and the planning board in January 2020, but three abutters appealed those decisions in Land Court: Canteen owner Rob Anderson; Scott Ravelson, who owned buildings at 227 and 229 Commercial St. at the time the suit was filed; and Marine Specialties owner Patrick Patrick.
Barker has spent a great deal of money over the last three years to persuade two of the three appellants to withdraw from the suit. Anderson backed out in 2021 after Barker revised her plans, keeping the components the same but putting them on a smaller footprint. To accomplish that, she had to bring the project back before the planning and zoning boards for new permits, which were granted.
Last summer, Barker bought Ravelson’s two properties for $4.7 million to get him to withdraw from the case.
The Old Reliable property at 227R has no frontage on Commercial Street. Access to the new development from Commercial Street was through a narrow easement over Ravelson’s property. Ravelson said that alleyway could not support the traffic the project would generate, an objection he maintained until Barker bought his properties.
Since then, negotiations had been ongoing with the final appellant, Patrick Patrick. “Despite extensive settlement discussions, I have not been able to come to an agreement,” Barker said in a recent phone interview.
Patrick told the Independent he could not talk about the specifics of the negotiations, saying only, “I’m disappointed and surprised that we ended our settlement discussions.”
A New Strategy
Barker’s request that the case be remanded to the planning board for a new hearing has been granted by the judge.
Barker’s variance from the town’s height requirements is part of what Patrick is appealing in Land Court, along with other permits from both the planning and zoning boards. Barker declined to comment on how a new special permit might affect the court case.
The inclusionary bylaw’s provisions would allow Barker to exceed the town’s maximum allowable height of 33 feet in exchange for creating affordable housing either within the project or at another location in town. The planning board is currently considering an amendment to the inclusionary bylaw that would allow the inclusion of workforce housing units to trigger the bylaw’s incentives as well.
Barker’s proposed building is 38 feet high, measured from the bottom of the first floor to the top of the third floor. Two gabled elevator shafts rise another 10 feet. The first floor is 11 feet above ground level at the site, in accordance with FEMA rules, and ground level at 227R is eight feet above official sea level (although only four feet above mean high tide).
In her request to the court for a return to the planning board, Barker said that affordable and workforce housing would be built on some other site, rather than on the Old Reliable property. Asked by the Independent whether she plans to build those units on the adjacent property she purchased from Ravelson, Barker replied that she had no details on what’s going to be proposed to the planning board. She declined to provide specifics related to her upcoming submission.
“There is very little I can say because there is still a pending lawsuit,” she said.
The judge has ordered a stay on the appeal of the project’s approvals while the planning board considers Barker’s new request.
Barker has until Jan. 30 to file an application with the planning board, which will then schedule a public hearing. The board will have no more than 90 days after the close of the public hearing to file its decision.
Patrick will retain all his rights to move forward with appeals of both the planning board and zoning board’s approvals.