NORTH TRURO — The owner of Horton’s Campground has reached a tentative agreement with the Mass. Dept. of Fisheries and Wildlife (DFW) to donate nearly 10 acres of land to the Truro Conservation Trust as mitigation for harming the habitat of protected turtles while clearing land five years ago.
In exchange, the DFW has issued a permit allowing Adventure Bound Camping Resorts and its owner, Wayne Klekamp, to continue work installing a new state-mandated sewer system on the land that was cleared, according to Klekamp’s attorney, Donald Nagle. The issuance of the permit ends a lawsuit brought by the DFW in 2019 against the campground parent company, A/C Motor Home Inc.
Nagle proposed the land donation at an Aug. 18 meeting of the Truro Planning Board. Four parcels of the 38-acre campground totaling 9.61 acres would be transferred to the Conservation Trust. Nagle called the parcels “high-quality habitat” for the protected reptiles. The largest parcel, which is 6.49 acres, has frontage on South Highland Road, while the three smaller parcels have no road frontage.
The planning board voted unanimously to refer the proposed conveyance to the Cape Cod Commission for review as a development of regional impact (DRI), as is required for any subdivision of land totaling more than 30 acres. The commission has until Oct. 22 to open public hearings on the conveyance.
If approved by the commission, the deal would reduce the size of the campground property to just below 30 acres, meaning that future subdivisions of the property would not be subject to a mandatory review by the regional planning agency.
In 2018, Klekamp’s company triggered a separate DRI review by submitting two proposals to subdivide the campground into residential lots. In one plan, the campground would be converted into 11 house lots. Because each lot would have been at least three acres, the minimum for development in the National Seashore district, the proposal could have been permitted under Truro zoning laws, which do not prohibit new residential construction in the Seashore.
At the Aug. 18 meeting, planning board member Steven Sollog warned against falling into a “trap” being set by Adventure Bound. “Bringing the acreage just under 30 as a final result makes me question the purpose,” Sollog said.
A Tense History
In 2016, Adventure Bound Camping angered authorities by clearing 11 of its 38 acres as part of a modernization of the campground. The company did not apply for permits, later arguing in court filings that they were exempt from town zoning laws because the camp had been established prior to their enactment. The DFW, concerned that the unpermitted sewer work was damaging the habitat of the Eastern box turtle, a species “of special concern” under the Mass. Endangered Species Act, ordered Adventure Bound to halt all soil work. The Truro building inspector issued a cease and desist order several months later, alleging that Horton’s had not received approval from the zoning board of appeals or the planning board. The National Seashore claimed, for its part, that, in addition to illegally clearing land on government property, Adventure Bound had altered the original use of the campground, which is disallowed for any business operating in the Seashore.
Horton’s is one of a few businesses inside the Seashore that predate its creation in 1961; it thus operates under a special status. When Adventure Bound purchased Horton’s in 2012, it acquired Horton’s certificate of suspension of condemnation (CSC), which allows it to continue operating within the Park, under certain limitations.
CSC-holding businesses can operate and upgrade their businesses as they see fit as long as they do not “constitute a change or substantial extension of any protected pre-existing nonconforming use of the property,” according to Truro zoning bylaws.
Nagle argued that the 2016 work to provide all 218 campsites with electricity, water, sewer, and cable service constituted an upgrade of the existing business. Truro claimed that the 11 acres cleared by the company had “virtually eliminat[ed] the primitive tent camping experience that had existed” and constituted a new business, according to court documents.
Then-Seashore Supt. George Price decided not to renew Klekamp’s certificate, citing the Florida-based campground owner’s “disregard for town zoning.” That decision theoretically opened the door for the Seashore to condemn and seize the property through eminent domain. But the Park would have had to pay market value for the 38-acre property. The land is currently assessed at more than $2.4 million.
‘No Other Agenda’
At the planning board meeting, held virtually, Klekamp’s agents made the case that the conveyance of land was simple restitution for harming the turtle habitat.
“The client’s simply trying to take the open space that exists on the property and convey it to the conservation trust,” said Donald Poole, a surveyor who worked for Adventure Bound.
Nagle asked the board to forgo the referral to the Cape Cod Commission. He argued that the mandatory referral was ultimately unnecessary, “since the purpose is to protect and preserve existing open space rather than to further develop it.” He also suggested that “if the board finds that it may not feel a need to refer it to the CCC, they may have reason in the fact that it’s not a single 30-acre parcel.”
Before Nagle finished, Town Planner Barbara Carboni directed the board to the rule that specifically forbids the board from doing what Nagle asked. “I don’t read the regulations as allowing the board to exercise discretion to decide whether it warrants referral,” she said. “There’s no discretion there.”
Before the board voted to refer the proposal to the commission, Fred Gaechter, president of the Truro Conservation Trust, offered support for Adventure Bound’s plan. “We’re not an outsider on this plan. We’ve been involved in it since its inception,” he said.
Sollog, however, was not convinced of Klekamp’s and Gaechter’s stated intentions. “I wish the board to be heads-up and not get caught in a trap which we will later regret because [Horton’s] serves an incredible purpose in Truro, in the Seashore, as a campground,” he said. “It’s a campground, and there is nothing I would rather see than it remain a campground.”
Nagle responded, “My client is in the business of running campgrounds. They have no interest in doing anything else with this property, other than having a successful, beautiful, enjoyable campground for visitors down the Cape, and there’s no other agenda.”