This article was updated on Thursday, Nov. 9.
PROVINCETOWN — A multi-million-dollar proposal to build a luxury mixed-use complex where the ruins of the Old Reliable Fish House now stand won the enthusiastic support of town officials and the business community when it was presented in 2019 by developer Christine Barker.
Abutters have kept it tied up in legal challenges since then, but court filings entered late Tuesday this week indicate that a settlement of the dispute is in the works. A trial in state Land Court on zoning issues that had been scheduled for Nov. 13 has been taken off the calendar.
“The parties are working through the settlement details in settlement documents that we expect to complete in the next 60 days,” read a statement issued this week by lawyers representing Barker and abutter Patrick Patrick. “Once those documents are finally negotiated, the zoning cases will be finally dismissed. We have no further comments at this time.”
Barker’s proposal calls for the demolition of the Fish House structure, which was condemned after a fire in 2015, and the construction of a new 31-room hotel, four residential condos, a restaurant and bar, a meeting space, and limited parking. The new building would sit on a platform about 17 feet above sea level on the harbor side because of FEMA requirements, and its highest point would be more than 60 feet above the beach.
A special permit to allow the building to exceed the town’s height limit of 33 feet was granted by the planning board in March in an exchange allowed under the town’s inclusionary zoning and incentive provisions. Barker was supposed to build one offsite affordable housing unit in return for the privilege. That permit is was part of the appeal that would have been decided at trial.
Barker also plans to reconstruct a 260-foot pier at the site.
Both the zoning and planning boards approved Barker’s initial proposal in early 2020, but three neighbors appealed the decisions in Land Court: Canteen owner Rob Anderson; Scott Ravelson, who at the time owned 227-229 Commercial St.; and Patrick, owner of Marine Specialties.
Anderson dropped out of the suit in 2021 when Barker trimmed the footprint of her project a bit. Barker bought Ravelson’s property for $4.6 million in 2022, thereby eliminating the basis for his appeal.
That left Patrick, under his corporate name MARSPEC, as the only remaining appellant.
The Land Court judge, Jennifer S.D. Roberts, was to determine whether the two boards’ approvals for the project should be upheld or reversed.
Even though the matter of the local permits was at the center of the case, the town’s lawyer wrote in an Oct. 31 joint pretrial memorandum that the planning and zoning boards intended to leave the active defense of their decisions to the attorneys hired by Barker and H. Bradford Rose, who is still the owner of the Old Reliable property. Barker’s deal to buy the property is contingent on the resolution of the lawsuits.
The two boards intended to participate in the trial only if they were ordered to do so by the court or if they determined that their presence was needed to protect their interests.
Town Manager Alex Morse said he hoped the judge would uphold the boards’ decisions.
“Town boards have reviewed and approved this inclusionary project which, in addition to adding a deed-restricted, affordable housing unit to the town’s year-round housing stock, will provide much needed hotel rooms, a restaurant, meeting spaces, and a rebuilt pier with public access,” said Morse in an email. “We hope to see this project move forward as soon as possible to revitalize a deteriorating property on Provincetown’s waterfront and help further our goals of building a vibrant year-round economy in town.”
Access and Other Issues
Access has been a point of contention. The Old Reliable property has no frontage on Commercial Street, and the only access to the proposed development would be an easement on a narrow alley bordered by Marine Specialties and the property Barker purchased from Ravelson.
The alley is about 19 feet wide where it meets Commercial Street but narrows to about 13 feet as it nears the proposed complex.
Permit conditions prohibit delivery trucks from using the alley, so all goods would need to be brought in on handcarts. Hotel guests and restaurant patrons would be directed to parking lots offsite. Vehicle traffic in the alley would be limited to shuttles dropping patrons off and the condominium owners who will have onsite parking spaces, according to the plan.
Patrick’s lawyer, Gregory Boucher, has argued that the access doesn’t meet the state’s fire safety standards and will result in a risk to the public and to neighboring businesses, which are tightly packed in the commercial center.
In a letter to the planning board during the initial permitting, Fire Chief Michael Trovato conceded that the proposed access to the Old Reliable property “is not an ideal situation for us,” but in its current condition, the property has been a major concern for the fire department “and we would like to see this property renovated.”
The fire chief provided the planning board with some ways to address the poor access, which the board incorporated into its decision, including installation of a sprinkler system and fire alarm system; conversion of the parking spaces across from Seamen’s Bank to a fire lane; and no parking allowed anywhere along the alley.
“We will need unobstructed access to the property at all times for a fire engine or an ambulance,” Trovato said in his letter. “For us to have to back a fire apparatus out from an incident is not an ideal situation, however, in this situation it is the only way for us to operate.”
Trovato is among those who were expected to testify on behalf of the town concerning fire safety conditions during the trial.
Patrick hired engineer Daniel Merriken, who produced a report on the project’s shortcomings. Merriken was to serve as Patrick’s expert witness during the trial.
Merriken analyzed the proposed stormwater management system design and concluded in his report that it does not comply with local requirements or state standards. He concluded that the design of the parking lot does not allow for proper circulation or room for turning around. Merriken also questioned the plan’s compliance with local setback requirements.
Barker had her own experts set to refute Merriken’s conclusions. Her list of expert witnesses included architect Jeffry Burchard, engineer Raul Lizardi-Rivera, and traffic engineer Keri Pike.
Neither Barker nor Patrick responded to requests for comment for this story.