TRURO — Two residents are appealing the town’s approval of the Cloverleaf, a 39-unit affordable housing development at 22 Highland Road.
The legal challenge was filed in Barnstable Superior Court on Feb. 25, the last day such an appeal could be entered. It could delay the project for a year, according to attorneys and housing experts. Approved by the zoning board of appeals on Jan. 14, the Cloverleaf would be the largest affordable housing project in Truro’s history.
The plaintiffs are Lauren Anderson of 30 Highland Road and Helen Torelli of 9 Twine Field Road. Neither of them has been prominent in the vocal opposition to the project. Their names don’t appear among the 77 signatures on recent letters from a group calling itself Concerned Members of the Pond Village Watershed Community.
Jason Talerman of Mead, Talerman and Costa, the attorney for the Pond Village group, said the plaintiffs are not among his clients. The people Talerman represents in Pond Village, whom he declined to name, opted against legal action, he said, because they had gotten “half” of what they wanted from the ZBA when the developer, Community Housing Resource, came up with added protections built into the proposed wastewater system. With their “glass half full,” Talerman said, they decided to advocate for more monitoring of the wastewater system when it goes through permitting by the board of health.
Torelli, an attorney who lives in Short Hills, N.J. as well as on Twine Field Road, and Anderson, who appears to live year-round in Truro, are represented by David Reid of South Yarmouth. Torelli refused to comment when reached by telephone, as did a man who answered the door at Anderson’s home. Both directed a reporter’s questions to attorney Reid, who did not respond to requests for comment.
In the legal filing, Reid states that Torelli, whose Truro home is about one mile from 22 Highland Road, is “down-gradient” of the Cloverleaf. Anderson lives much closer, only three houses away from the development site, near the intersection of Highland Road and Route 6. Reid wrote that Anderson “may also be down-gradient of the development.”
Like the Pond Village group, Reid’s clients claim that the wastewater treatment system won’t work and their private wells will be contaminated with nitrogen from effluent.
Reid stated that the “innovative/alternative” wastewater system “is unproven” and the ZBA’s approval fails to protect groundwater and the health and safety of the residents. He also stated that the decision “fails to provide appropriate site design in relation to traffic and vehicle parking….”
The issue of the wastewater system was reviewed repeatedly during the permit approval process, which lasted more than a year. Two different engineers attested that the system at the Cloverleaf will treat wastewater to a much higher standard than traditional Title 5 systems, which reduce nitrates in effluent to 26.25 milligrams per liter (mg/L).
The final decision by the ZBA to grant the comprehensive permit states that the Cloverleaf wastewater system, a BioMicrobics BioBarrier treatment facility, is designed to reduce nitrogen to an average of 5 mg/L, that is, less than one-fifth the level for a Title 5 system. There are monitoring conditions imposed on the developer to ensure the system operates as designed.
Anderson and Torelli have a difficult case to win. It’s not clear that either of the plaintiffs has “presumed standing,” meaning an automatic right to appeal a zoning board decision. Only a direct abutter or property owner within 300 feet of a development has a presumption of standing. Torelli definitely does not have it. Reid did not respond to email and phone messages asking about Anderson’s standing.
To establish standing, the plaintiffs must provide a “plausible claim of a definite violation of private rights, private property interest, or legal interest,” and that cannot be diminution of property value, said Sharon M. Petrillo of Greenbaum, Nagel, Fisher & Paliotti, a Boston real estate and property lawyer.
In other words, Petrillo said, it’s hard to successfully appeal a comprehensive permit under the state’s Chapter 40B, sometimes called the “anti-snob zoning law.” But the court challenge will delay the project for about one year, said Jay Coburn, executive director of the Community Development Partnership. And that is not good news for those who need an affordable place to rent on the Outer Cape. Just one year ago, when the 65-unit Village at Nauset Green opened in Eastham, 290 people applied for rental units.
One of the most vocal opponents of Cloverleaf project over the past year was planning board member Peter Herridge, who warned that wastewater from the site would cause “blue baby syndrome” in neighborhood infants. After that argument was debunked by engineering and health authorities, Herridge said, “The thing to do now is to delay in every way possible, because there may be state and federal money available now, but there sure as hell will not be next year. My motto is never give up, never surrender.”
Carl Brotman, a member of the Truro Housing Authority, said this is the third lawsuit against affordable housing efforts during his 10 years on the board. A legal challenge delayed Sally’s Way for years, and three Habitat for Humanity homes at 181 Route 6 are still unbuilt because of a lawsuit, he said.
“It’s a very arduous process to bring housing to Truro,” he said.