PROVINCETOWN — Lawyers for the developer of a proposed workforce housing project — known as the Barracks — and the town’s planning board, which approved the development, have asked a judge to require a $50,000 bond be posted by residents who are seeking to stop the project.
At issue is a special permit granted for the Barracks by the planning board in June. Shortly after the approval, residents Julie and Alison Gray, Jay Gurewitsch, and John Crowley filed suit against the planning board and developer Patrick Patrick in Barnstable Superior Court to get the permit annulled.
In addition to asking the court to require the plaintiffs to post the bond, attorneys Amy Kwesell and Gregory Boucher, representing the planning board and Patrick, have a pending request to move the case to state Land Court, where it would be handled more quickly, or to grant the case a December trial date if it remains in the county court.
An Oct. 28 hearing on the request to move the case was postponed to Nov. 30 because of a storm-related court closure.
The judge could act on the $50,000 bond request before Nov. 30 or wait and hear arguments from both sides on hearing day, Boucher said.
The bond that the court can now require of plaintiffs who appeal permits for affordable housing is a new provision in the state’s housing choice law. Its purpose is to discourage frivolous suits that can keep housing projects from moving forward, often for years. If the plaintiffs should lose their case, they would forfeit the bond, which would then go to pay legal fees and other costs related to the case, including increased costs of construction caused by delays.
Gov. Charlie Baker signed the provision into law in January.
“I haven’t heard of any judges ruling on these motions yet,” Boucher said.
A similar request for a $50,000 bond was recently made in state Land Court in a suit filed to challenge the so-called Cloverleaf affordable housing development in Truro. It has not yet been acted on by the judge in that case.
While towns frequently step back in such appeals and let the developers handle litigation, Provincetown is taking an active role in the Barracks case.
“Workforce housing is very important to the town,” said Kwesell, an attorney at KP Law.
In opposing the request for the bond, the attorney for the residents, William Hinchy, accused the vice chair of the planning board, Brandon Quesnell, of having a vested interest in getting the project built.
“This particular project has nothing to do with affordable housing, as it creates zero such housing,” Hinchy wrote in his Nov. 1 court filing. “It does, however, have everything to do with the economic interests of at least one planning board member.”
Hinchy included in his filing copies of an email exchange between Steve Katsurinis, Quesnell’s husband, and Julie Gray.
A few weeks after the case was filed, Julie Gray made a dinner reservation at Mezzeterranean, a restaurant owned by Quesnell and Katsurinis. Gray then received an email from Katsurinis, pointing out that Quesnell was one of the planning board members she was suing over “much needed workforce housing.”
“In fact, we cannot open more than three nights a week due to a lack of available workers this summer, and it will only get worse,” Katsurinis wrote. “As a result, we feel it would not be appropriate to host you at our restaurant during the pendency of this litigation.” He canceled Gray’s reservation.
Pointing out Katsurinis’s use of “we” in the email, Hinchy said Quesnell had a “personal economic interest in the outcome of Mr. Patrick’s application for zoning relief.”
In their response, the attorneys for the planning board and Patrick called it a “specious” argument that “workforce housing in dormitory-style shared rooms is somehow not affordable housing.”
The lawyers described Katsurinis’s email as “a prime example of a member of the public, expressing the public harm to employers, employees and restaurant patrons, that is brought by delaying the project.”
Neither Katsurinis nor Quesnell responded to email requests for comment.
Patrick’s Barracks proposal calls for 112 bunk beds in 28 dormitory-style rooms, with private bathrooms and common kitchens and dining areas. The rooms would be for seasonal workers. The project would also include 15 studio and one-bedroom apartments and a two-bedroom manager’s unit, which would be year-round rentals. The four-acre target site is at 207 Route 6.
In their motion, the attorneys for the planning board and Patrick argued that there is a workforce housing crisis in the region.
The plaintiffs argue that the planning board did not adhere to the town’s zoning bylaws in granting the special permit. They also want the court to decide whether the developer has the right to use Province Road for the proposed development.