WELLFLEET — Habitat for Humanity of Cape Cod will ask the zoning board of appeals at its July 13 meeting to take the final step in its review of a plan to build four affordable houses off Old King’s Highway. The review process began nine years ago.
This request is not about the houses themselves but addresses the income limits that define who would be eligible to buy them. ZBA chair Sharon Inger said the potential adjustments to the comprehensive permit’s conditions were routine.
Habitat’s permit is for four houses: two 2-bedroom and two 3-bedroom ranches. The conditions currently call for all four homes, for the first-time sale, to go to people earning no more than 65 percent of area median income (AMI). Barnstable County’s AMI is $84,650 for a single-income household; 65 percent of that is $55,023.
Habitat is asking to restrict the first sale of two homes — one 2-bedroom and one 3-bedroom — to people who earn a bit less: no more than 60 percent of AMI ($50,790 for a single-income household). At the same time, Habitat is asking to adjust the limit upward for the first sale of the other two houses, to 80 percent ($67,700 for a single-income household).
All subsequent sales of the homes will be deed-restricted in perpetuity to buyers who earn at or below 80 percent of AMI.
The change, already approved by the town’s housing authority, would align the income eligibility limit for the Old King’s Highway project with other Habitat developments.
Habitat’s plan has been challenged in court three times. The first was in 2015, when abutters appealed a special permit from the planning board to build three houses on the site.
Instead of fighting, Habitat changed course. The nonprofit housing developer applied for a comprehensive permit under the state’s 40B statute, which allows zoning boards to approve affordable housing developments under flexible rules in towns where less than 10 percent of the housing is defined as affordable. Wellfleet has under 3 percent.
The ZBA unanimously approved a permit for Habitat’s new plan in 2016. But the same group of abutters sued again and prevailed, based on a technicality related to the board’s voting procedure.
Habitat returned to the board, requesting a comprehensive permit for a new plan with four houses instead of three. The houses would be served by a single 450-foot driveway off Old King’s Highway. The ZBA approved the comprehensive permit in July 2019, and abutters promptly filed another appeal, citing issues related to traffic, drainage, privacy, and the general character of the neighborhood. They also wanted the homes accessed from Old Long Pond Road rather than from Old King’s Highway.
The list of appellants included Martin and Felicia Magida, Jean Rubenstein, and Charles Merzbacher, who all lived on Old King’s Highway and had been among those who had filed the previous lawsuits.
A jury-waived trial before Barnstable Superior Court Judge Mark Gildea was held in April 2022, and Gildea affirmed the ZBA’s action late that fall.
Regarding the preference for access from Old Long Pond, Gildea wrote that the street was part of the same neighborhood as the Old King’s Highway homes. “It appears that the plaintiffs’ concerns are limited to their particular properties rather than the neighborhood as a whole,” he wrote. As for traffic, drainage, and neighborhood character, Gildea wrote that four additional houses would have a minimal impact. There was no appeal of Gildea’s decision.
According to Habitat’s resource development director, Tara Cronin, it will still be a few years before any of the families who ultimately get the homes move in. Infrastructure will go in starting this fall, and volunteer wall raisings will be held late in 2024 or early 2025, Cronin said.
“That was unfortunate that it took so long, but we’re happy that there will be four houses there in a couple of years,” said Habitat Executive Director Wendy Cullinan.
According to Wellfleet’s housing production plan, 40 of the town’s 1,550 year-round units were classified as affordable as of November 2022, putting the town just shy of 2.6 percent. It needs an additional 115 affordable units to reach the state’s 10-percent benchmark, according to the plan.
Wellfleet will get a major housing boost when the 46 units designed for 95 Lawrence Road are completed, but those units won’t be ready for occupancy until 2026. The project was delayed when Preservation of Affordable Housing (POAH), a partner in the development, did not get one of the state’s funding awards last winter. POAH will apply again during a mini-funding round in September.
Habitat for Humanity of Cape Cod also has a project pending in Truro at 181 Route 6, on the east side of the highway between the Pamet roads and Union Field Road, which won local approval but was successfully challenged in Superior Court by an abutter.
Habitat held a community forum last summer to get neighborhood reaction to a revised plan for three affordable houses on the 1.78-acre property and once again ran into opposition.
“We really haven’t had additional contact with the neighbors since then,” Cullinan said. Habitat is currently focused on budgets for several pending projects, she said, but will likely revisit plans for Truro this fall.
In Truro, where the supply of affordable housing is even lower than Wellfleet’s (2.29 percent as of December 2022), the 39 units of mixed-income apartments planned for the Cloverleaf on Highland Road also faced a prolonged court appeal.
That appeal ended with a settlement in February 2022. The units are expected to be ready for occupancy in December 2024.