TRURO — Christine Maxwell says she should have been the first, not the last, to sign onto a lawsuit appealing the zoning board’s granting of a comprehensive permit for an affordable housing development known as the Cloverleaf at 22 Highland Road.
But Maxwell, 58, of Glastonbury, Conn. and 24 Highland Road, said she didn’t know the 39-unit project had been approved or that a lawsuit to appeal that approval had been filed in Barnstable Superior Court on Feb. 25. She recently read about the Cloverleaf and the appeal in the Independent. “I found the lawyer and called him,” Maxwell said. The plaintiffs’ attorney, David Reid, has not returned calls from the Independent for comment.
Maxwell is the only one of 16 plaintiffs who is a direct abutter to the Cloverleaf site. Her joining the suit is potentially important, because abutters have presumed standing in court, which gives them the right to file an appeal. Those not abutting must go through a lengthy and often unsuccessful process to prove they have a case.
Even with standing, however, it’s difficult to win appeals overturning affordable housing permits. Neighbors often do it to delay a project in the hopes that funding sources run dry. This scenario is so common that the state recently passed an “abutter appeals reform” law aimed at preventing frivolous lawsuits by neighbors.
Only one other plaintiff, Lauren Anderson of 30 Highland Road, lives on same road as the Cloverleaf, though she’s not an abutter. The others own property at least a mile away, on Knowles Heights Road, Windigo Lane, Twine Field Road, Great Hollow Road, and even as far away as Longnook Road.
Maxwell said she believes that because the Cloverleaf is so large it will affect properties farther away. But, she added, she has never spoken to any of the other plaintiffs. She said a man came to her home twice when only her college-age daughter was home, but that seeing a stranger, her daughter did not answer the door.
The Cloverleaf residents “are going to be right on top of me,” said Maxwell, whose home in North Truro is assessed by the town at $450,000. “I have the worst-case scenario of anyone in Truro.”
Maxwell, the mother of five grown daughters, lives in Connecticut part of the year. She said she bought her Truro property in 2017, having no idea that town meeting voters had acquired the state-owned land the year before for the purpose of building affordable housing. She said she did eventually hear about the project but thought it was not a sure thing.
Her concerns are loss of privacy, traffic, and road runoff. “I need big walls, so people cannot see me,” she said.
After a year-long review of the project, the Truro Zoning Board of Appeals wrote a 21-page decision granting the comprehensive permit under a section of state law that allows the zoning board of appeals to give affordable housing developments waivers under certain conditions and when the tradeoffs are deemed beneficial to the town.
That decision, however, still requires that the project meets health and safety codes, and those have been met in the Cloverleaf case. The development will have town water. Its stormwater management systems must meet state and local guidelines. The wastewater treatment system, approved after months of discussion and two independent reviews by engineers, will be able to reduce the nitrogen in the effluent down to 5 mg per liter, far less than a traditional Title 5 system, which typically reduces nitrogen levels to 26.25 mg per liter.