TRURO — The attorney for property owners suing the developer of the 39-unit Cloverleaf project and the Truro Zoning Board of Appeals has added 13 plaintiffs to the suit filed last month in Barnstable Superior Court.
Neither David Reid, the lawyer, nor any of the now 15 named plaintiffs would answer questions about their motives, but affordable housing advocates see the suit as a delaying tactic that could jeopardize state funding for the project.
Attorney Reid, of Stone & Reid in South Yarmouth, is suing developer Ted Malone of Community Housing Resource of Provincetown and the five ZBA members who approved a comprehensive permit for the project on Jan. 14. Initially, there were just two plaintiffs: Lauren Anderson of 30 Highland Road and Helen Torelli, who lives in New Jersey and at 9 Twine Field Road.
But on March 4, Reid added the names of 13 other people he says will be harmed by the development, bringing the total number to 15. None of the new people on the list are abutters, and most live more than a mile from the proposed site at 22 Highland Road.
Robert Weinstein, chair of the Truro Select Board, said it seems clear the objective of the lawsuit is not to win, because none of the plaintiffs has standing — that is, the statutory right to appeal a ZBA decision. In order to show standing, plaintiffs must prove they could be harmed by the development. According to Sharon Petrillo, a zoning law specialist at Greenbaum, Nagel, Fisher & Paliotti in Boston, that will be a high hurdle.
“The harms cannot merely be alleged as something that may happen,” said Petrillo, but rather require a “valid and definite” experience of harm, or expert opinions supporting the claim of potential harm.
The opponents know they cannot win, Weinstein said, but they want to run out the clock in hopes that state funding falls apart. “Delay, delay, delay” would be the best strategy to stop the development, planning board member Peter Herridge, a vocal opponent of the Cloverleaf, told the Independent last year.
Reid has not returned multiple calls seeking comment.
The delay tactic is common enough that the state legislature in January passed an economic development bond bill that includes a section titled “Abutter Appeals Reform” to address meritless legal challenges. The law gives judges the authority to require a party appealing a decision to post up to a $50,000 bond if the judge deems “that the harm to the defendant or to the public interest resulting from delays caused by the appeal outweighs the financial burden of the surety or cash bond on the plaintiffs.” The law further specifies that “the court is directed to consider the relative merits of the appeal and the relative financial means of the plaintiff and the defendant.”
Taxpayers could be paying for part of this legal battle. The select board is now in the process of deciding how much the town will help the developer defend the project in court.
As for the lawsuit’s potential to jeopardize the project’s funding, Malone said he has already missed the deadline to apply for low-income housing tax credits. The deadline was in January, but pre-approval was in November, and at that point the project still needed a permit from the ZBA, Malone said. This means the project will be pushed out a year in any case, even without the complication of the lawsuit.
The first two plaintiffs in the suit are Lauren Anderson, who lives three houses away from the Cloverleaf at 30 Highland Road, and Helen Torelli, whose Truro property is nearly a mile away at 9 Twine Field Rd. Those now joining the suit are John, Brianna, and Mary Bobola of 7 Windago Lane, Rosemary Broton Boyle of 43 Knowles Heights Road, Abby Lynn Corea of 1 Toms Hill Path, George Dineen of 22 Great Hollow Road, Susan Grace of 28 Windago Lane, Barbara Golding of 17 Great Hollow Road, Samantha Hayman of 17C Great Hollow Road, Joanne Hollander of 13 Toms Hill Path, Donald Horton of 5 Longnook Road, Alice Longley of 39 Knowles Heights Road, and Eve Turchinetz of 22 Great Hollow Road.
All of the plaintiffs either could not be reached or refused to comment.