For the past few months, I’ve read with consternation about plans for 17 Coast Guard Road in Truro, which is currently home to the late-1950s Hi-Land View cottage colony. The new owners of the property plan to demolish all but one of the half-dozen structures and build anew. (As I understand it, the Lucky Last-Standing will be repurposed as a pool house for the proposed 5,000-square-foot — or is it now 4,000? or really more like 10,000? — main residence.)
The Truro Planning Board approved the plan last month, as reported in last week’s Independent. The zoning board of appeals still needs to issue two special permits for the project.
To the mystery mansion folk — They Who Shall Not Be Named, cloaked in the protective anonymity afforded by a real estate trust, benefiting from an attorney’s powers of persuasion and advocacy — I implore you: live lighter on this narrow land. Lean into the natural and cultural history of the setting in which your new purchase sits. Preserve and perpetuate this vestige of early-days Cape tourism. Reimagine and instead repurpose the cottage colony.
In 2018, I became the proud steward of my own Outermost House, a scant 240 square feet of seasonal serenity built in (and mostly unchanged since) 1955. My wee cottage and its dozen siblings make up a modest five-acre cottage colony in South Eastham. A vintage 1930s year-round main house stands sentinel on busy Route 6. The relentless march of time and traffic mostly bypasses our bliss, a true time capsule of Old Cape Cod.
Cottage colonies like mine — and now yours — are an endangered Cape species. Relish them and what they represent. These are mementos of mid-century, when automobiles were first affordable to the masses and newly paved roads rendered this Far Land widely accessible to vacationers. Sprinkled across the Cape, now tucked between soulless newer subdivisions, cheek by jowl with seasonal businesses and attractions, or — the rarest jewels — with views of the sea, these humble single- and two-room structures are otherwise mistaken for modern-day garden sheds. But don’t underestimate them!
These diminutive salt boxes and bungalows represent the best of the Cape’s past, present, and future. Simply but solidly built, many have withstood a succession of blizzards and blows. A bed, a bureau, a bath, a two-burner cooktop, and cross breezes. Minimal gas, electric, and water usage. Small lots requiring few if any inputs like mowing, watering, fertilizer. What more could one want or need? Elegantly simple, lacking in no essentials, close to nature, close to neighbors, leaving a relatively gentle imprint on this fragile sandbar.
Seventy years ago, far fewer people considered living on the Cape year-round. Surely the builders and owners of these quaint cottage colonies could not have anticipated the current housing crunch. But various Cape towns now permit the conversion of these original “tiny houses” to year-round residences. At town meeting this past May, Eastham residents approved a bylaw to allow just such a thing.
Could this change and a reimagining of motels and seasonal tourist cottages enable locals otherwise priced out of the Outer Cape housing market to gain a foothold here? Small house living is not for everyone. But for those willing and able to live essentially and more intimately with our truly unique Cape landscape, cottage colonies can indeed represent a viable — and environmentally sensitive — housing option.
So, to the new owners of Hi-Land View: Consider the higher road as cottage colonizers. Have fun with your cluster of curios. See in them the potential to live large while embracing the small and simple, safeguarding their history as part of your — and Truro’s — future.
Tara Chhabra lives in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. and Eastham. She is an aspiring writer and washashore.