TRURO — The view along Shore Road stirs recollections of days gone by when families with modest incomes could spend a week or two in simple cottages on the water. Many of those look much the same today as they did 70 or more years ago.
According to Richard Whalen, in his 2007 book Truro: The Story of a Cape Cod Town, Beach Point, a long sandspit stretching through North Truro to the Provincetown line, was divided into more than 200 tiny lots in 1900. Today, motels, cottages, and some larger summer homes are crowded along that stretch, which Whalen called “the highest density commercial area” in Truro.
Some of the older cottages, on both sides of Shore Road, have fallen into such dire disrepair that restoration is no longer possible. That’s the case for both a tiny 123-year-old cottage at 379 Shore Road and a 103-year-old single-story house at 423 Shore Road that’s been boarded up for a couple of decades and sports a large hole in the roof.
The long-time owners of both properties are now seeking to demolish the buildings and replace them with houses that are still fairly modest in size.
The Truro Historical Commission can consider delaying demolition of structures that are at least 75 years old, but the deteriorated cottages at 379 and 423 Shore Road are not architecturally significant, based on a historical survey of the town done by the Public Archaeology Laboratory of Rhode Island in 2011.
Owner Charles Silva has not yet asked for a determination by the historical commission on 379 Shore, but he did secure a vote three years ago not to delay the demolition of a second house, and plans for the replacement of that one, built in 1955, have been approved.
The commission, at its Aug. 24 meeting, voted not to delay demolition of the hip-roof cottage at 423 Shore, which is owned by Jennifer Chisholm.
Still, it hasn’t been clear sailing for these owners. The zoning board of appeals has put both projects through a rigorous review, ultimately awarding the required special permit for Chisholm’s place after significant adjustments were made and denying a special permit for Silva’s plan to replace the older of his houses at 379.
Progress at 423
Chisolm applied for a special permit from the ZBA in January to demolish the current two-bedroom house and replace it with a new two-story two-bedroom built on pilings and including a small concrete foundation with flood vents. The lot is nonconforming because it falls short of the required 33,000 square feet, and the front of the house sits right in the layout for Shore Road, far short of the town’s required setback of 25 feet.
During an initial review, ZBA members were opposed to the location of the new house, which would put the front only five feet from the road. To address that, the applicant moved the house back to 25 feet from the road.
Doing so, however, put the building closer to the wetland, requiring a return to the conservation commission. Chisholm had to remove the proposed concrete foundation and set the house solely on pilings to satisfy that panel.
A change in the elevation of the property at the new location created another problem: now the design exceeded the town’s 30-foot height limit by two feet. The property owner had to ask the zoning board for a special permit to exceed the height limit.
Members questioned why the architects hadn’t simply changed the design and reduce the height by two feet. “It seems to me, with the infinite number of designs available, there must be one that comports with the bylaw,” said then-chair Arthur Hultin, who warned he would vote against the request to exceed the limit.
The ZBA is seeing a steady increase in requests for special permits to bend bylaw standards. Currently, the criteria for those special permits are limited and vague, based on whether a nonconforming proposal is “more detrimental” than what is currently on a property and whether it meets the intent of the town’s bylaws.
“A special permit is a low bar,” said member Darrell Shedd during the board’s April hearing.
Since it was clear that the zoning board was not inclined to grant the permit, Chisholm asked to continue the discussion to May 22. In the interim, a slight flattening of the gable roof and recalculation of the base elevation, after conferring with the building commissioner, resulted in reducing the height below the town’s 30-foot limit.
The board then unanimously approved the special permit to demolish the building and erect a new one.
No Go at 379
Silva’s property at 379 Shore Road, with only 6,300 square feet, has two cottages on it: The first was built in 1900 and the second was constructed elsewhere in 1955 and moved to the Shore Road lot.
Silva has all the permits he needs to demolish the single-story building and replace it with a one-and-a-half-story house (a designation based on the height of the building) on the same foundation.
On Aug. 21, he asked the zoning board to grant a special permit allowing him to demolish the 123-year-old cottage and replace it with a two-story house on the same foundation.
ZBA members opposed the proposal because a second-floor deck on the front would be less than two feet from the property line when 10 feet are required. Christopher Lucy, now ZBA chair, said it was a matter of bulk.
“In time, traveling down this corridor, you’ll just have walls,” Lucy said, “whether it’s one side because of piles [due to flood zone requirements] or the other side that wants to see the view so they get up as high as they can go.”
Special permit approval requires a minimum of four votes from the five-member board, so the 3-2 vote resulted in a denial. Shedd and Hultin voted against the proposal.
Silva plans to return with a revised plan. Shedd suggested he consider making it a single-story or, at most, a 1.5-story with a dormer.
“I was mostly opposed to a two-story building 18 inches from the property line,” said Shedd in a phone interview last week.
“Beach Point has a lot of zoning problems,” he said. “It’s going to start looking like a city neighborhood.” While some proposals may not be “more detrimental” to the neighborhood, they definitely go against what the bylaw intended, he said.
“The bylaws weren’t designed so people could pretend they didn’t exist,” Shedd said. “I think the zoning board, more and more, is starting to enforce the intent of the bylaw.”
Over the next few meetings, the ZBA will look at adding further criteria for special permit approval.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article, published in print on Sept. 7, incorrectly identified the owner of the house in the photo at 423 Shore Road. The owner is Jennifer Chisholm, not Charles Silva.