PROVINCETOWN — The zoning board of appeals on Dec. 5 granted a variance and the special permits necessary for a new hotel, bar, restaurant, and pier to be constructed at the former Old Reliable Fish House.
Chris Snow, the attorney for an abutter, called the plan “the largest and most ambitious project that has come before the town, at least in recent memory.” He added, “I cannot believe it wouldn’t be a discretionary referral [to the Cape Cod Commission].”
But members of the ZBA were satisfied that the applicant, New York and Provincetown developer Christine Barker, had met the criteria to obtain exemptions from many town building regulations, particularly in relation to the height of the hotel, which will be taller than Whaler’s Wharf because it will be set atop a 15-foot-tall platform that will turn into a 264-foot-long pier.
The 31-room hotel, with a bar and restaurant set on the beach behind the former Pennsylvania Company building, now goes to the planning board for site plan review and then to the conservation commission. (The ZBA must still vote on a special permit for parking because Chair Jeremy Callahan recused himself on Dec. 5 from that one question, leaving not enough members to vote on it.)
In granting special permits for dimensional scale and mixed uses of the structure, the board attached five conditions, including that the builder provide affordable housing and that Barker file a written application with the state for a new pier.
The ZBA regards the pier, which will be a multi-million-dollar expense for the developer, as a major public benefit that would justify the waivers from the building regulations. Barker’s consultant, Ginny Binder, said it will take six months to two years to secure the state permit.
Barker told the board she is now working on a plan with the Provincetown Housing Authority to develop 15 units of affordable housing at an off-site location. She had originally offered to add just one unit.
The other conditions are related to fire safety: Barker must ask the select board to create a no-parking zone across from Seamen’s Bank. There can be no parking in the alley that provides access to the proposed hotel from Commercial Street, and a fire hydrant must be installed at the end of the alley. It is located between Marine Specialties and the former Pennsylvania Company property.
Owners of the Marine Specialties and the Pennsylvania Company buildings both brought lawyers to the ZBA meeting and had objections. Scott Ravelson, owner of the Pennsylvania Company, through his attorney, Ilana Quirk of the Freeman Law Group in Yarmouth Port, gave the board a report by a consultant on the fire hazards presenting by a structure of that height located down a narrow alley.
According to Kevin Hastings of Hastings Consulting, the new paved driveway in the alleyway will be only nine feet wide. These dimensions do not provide sufficient width for a typical fire truck or ladder truck to reach the building, he stated.
If firefighters had to walk from Commercial Street, they would need to travel 200 feet, well in excess of the 50-foot state fire code limit from the closest access door. The back of the building is 350 feet from Commercial Street. The building will, however, have a sprinkler system.
Back in 1950, when 227 and 227R Commercial St. were part of the Atlantic Coast Fisheries Company, the company secured an easement over that alleyway to access the waterfront property. The easement, according to Quirk, would be “overburdened” by becoming a driveway to a hotel and public access to a pier.
In rebutting those arguments, Eliza Cox, Barker’s attorney, said the fire chief had written a statement favoring the project, in which he said it would be a vast improvement over what is there now.
The alleyway had in the past been the access point to a 230-seat restaurant, Cox added.
ZBA member Steven Latasa–Nicks noted that the fire safety consultant and the fire chief had conflicting opinions.
“I’d give deference to the fire chief,” Latasa-Nicks said.
As to the issue of a narrow alleyway, he said narrow roads are part of the reality of living in Provincetown.
Barker wants to build a 38-foot-high three-story hotel, which would be set atop a 15-foot platform, raising the total building height to over 50 feet. The town’s height limit is 33 feet. In arguing for the variance, the developer said the platform is required by the Federal Emergency Management Agency because the hotel is in a flood zone. Staying within the height limit and building on the platform would limit the building to two stories, making the project not feasible.
Snow, Marine Specialties owner Patrick Patrick’s attorney, said the bylaw limits height for a reason and by allowing variances to exceed the limit, “You may as well go up and down the waterfront willy-nilly.”
This comment prompted several board members to murmur that they do expect to get similar requests because much of the town is within the FEMA flood zone.
“Then why even have a height limit?” Snow asked.
Only ZBA member Robert Nee voted either to abstain or against the special permits.
“I have concerns about firefighting access,” Nee said. “I’ve seen too many people die.”
ZBA member Peter Okun argued, “The economic vitality of this town is tied to the tight quarters and we get around it with sprinklers and fire hydrants.”