PROVINCETOWN — Christine Barker’s proposal for a mixed-use waterfront development on the former site of the Old Reliable Fish House is once again mired in Land Court, with two of the three abutters who had opposed the original project submitting amended complaints on her recently tweaked and approved plan.
The court schedule will be set during a conference on Aug. 6. It will likely lead to a trial in the next year, since other options, such as mediation and a bid for a slightly scaled-down proposal for the site, have not been successful. The project could be stalled even longer if appeals are filed.
Barker is looking to demolish the fish house structure, which was condemned after a fire in 2015, and construct a new building for a 31-room hotel, four residential condos, a restaurant and bar, a meeting space, and some parking, along with reconstruction of the old pier, now in ruins.
Submitted in November 2019, Barker’s original proposal was generally well received by townspeople and the business community, and it won approval from the planning and zoning boards.
But abutters Scott Ravelson, who owns 229 Commercial St., Rob Anderson, owner of the Canteen, and Patrick Patrick, owner of Marine Specialties, filed suit in Land Court shortly after the approvals to annul them.
A judge put the cases on hold last March to allow Barker an opportunity to tweak her original proposal to make it more palatable to the abutters. Barker had to then return to the town for approval of the new plan, which contained essentially the same components as the original but eliminated a 28-foot-deep section on the northwest corner of the three-story building and a handicap ramp, and reduced parking from 14 to 13 spaces.
Once again, the planning and zoning boards enthusiastically gave Barker the necessary approvals.
The changes satisfied Anderson, who has withdrawn from the suit; but Ravelson and Patrick have now filed amended complaints in Land Court against the tweaked proposal’s approval, a move that once again activates the case.
The defendants include the planning and zoning boards, Barker, and H. Bradford Rose, the current owner of the Old Reliable property. While Amy Kwesell, the attorney from KP Law who is representing the town, did not respond to requests for comment for this story, she said in a past call that Barker is the main defendant in the case, since she holds the permits. Kwesell said she planned to monitor the case, since the planning and zoning boards are defendants, but the town is not required to file legal responses to the complaint.
Barker and Rose are represented by attorney Jean Kampas, who did not respond to a request for comment.
Once again, the businessmen have asked the Land Court to annul the variances and special permits granted by the planning and zoning boards, and to issue a permanent injunction that prevents Rose or Barker “from overburdening or interfering with the easements” owned by Ravelson. The injunction would restrict use of the easements to those specified under the 1950 deed for the property.
In the suit, Gregory Boucher, the attorney for Ravelson and Patrick, focused on the lack of adequate access to the target property. The fish house site has no frontage on Commercial Street. Sole access from Commercial is via a narrow alleyway easement through land owned by Ravelson.
“It would be overburdening what the easement was intended for,” said Boucher in a phone interview. The Old Reliable Fish House would have generated far less foot traffic than a 31-room hotel, four condos, and a restaurant, he said.
One of the conditions included by the permitting boards in their latest approvals requires some improvements to the alleyway by Barker, which Ravelson’s attorney argued were improperly ordered, since Ravelson, and not Barker, owns the alleyway.
Public safety issues related to the limited access were raised in the amended complaints, with the plaintiffs arguing the access does not satisfy the state fire safety regulations “and will create a public safety issue that is a substantial detriment both to the general public good and to the property owners who own structures in close proximity.”
As in the suits on the original plan, these latest filings argue that the town boards improperly gave the plan the status of a continuation of a nonconforming use, based on the fish house building. That building was condemned in 2015 and was not replaced within the two-year time frame allowed under the town’s zoning law to benefit from continued nonconforming status, argued Boucher. Without nonconforming status, the proposed building should be required to meet the town’s height and setback requirements, and maximum lot coverage rules.
The plaintiffs also claim the new plan will alter one or two sand dunes on the fish house property, which “might increase the potential for flood damage,” which is a violation of the town’s bylaws.
“They don’t challenge there being a project there, they just challenge the size,” Boucher said during the interview. “We see this now as heading for trial. If it doesn’t go our way, we would consider our appellate options, which could delay the project another year.”
Barker did not respond to requests for comment.