TRURO — A roadblock preventing progress on building a rental housing development here has been removed.
The Truro Zoning Board of Appeals and affordable housing developer Community Housing Resource of Provincetown have reached an agreement with a group of residents who appealed the board’s approval of the so-called Cloverleaf at 22 Highland Road in North Truro. The lawsuit had tied the project up in court for more than a year.
The agreement was announced by Town Manager Darrin Tangeman on Feb. 15.
As a result, 39 units of housing at the site abutting Route 6 that was given to the town by the state Dept. of Transportation in 2017 to use for affordable housing could be available in about two years’ time.
Tangeman’s announcement confirmed that 20 of the units will be “affordable,” that is, reserved for tenants who earn no more than 80 percent of the area median income (AMI). The AMI for a two-person household is currently $77,750 in Barnstable County; 80 percent of that is $62,200. Eight units will be reserved for those earning between 80 and 120 percent of AMI ($62,200 to $93,300 for two people), six will be rented at market rate, and five will be used as needed.
A Long, Winding Road
Community Housing Resource was selected by Truro officials as the developer for the Cloverleaf apartments in 2019.
After more than a year of hearings, company president Ted Malone secured a comprehensive permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals in January 2021 under the state’s Chapter 40B housing statute.
A group of Truro property owners appealed the permit in Superior Court a month later, suing both the zoning board and Community Housing Resource. Such cases can tie up a project for years, sometimes causing the developer to abandon the effort.
Last April, the Cloverleaf case shifted to Land Court, where suits move forward more quickly. It was scheduled to go to trial on April 18.
Attorney David Reid, who represents the plaintiffs in the appeal, said the settlement calls for enhanced testing of the septic system at the apartment complex, a requirement he said would address their principal concern.
With the case dismissed, Malone will now be able to apply for federal and state tax credits via a mid-year mini-funding round. No work has been done at the project site other than the installation of a water line by the town, funded via a $2.1-million state grant.
Construction will begin six to nine months after funding has been finalized. Buildout will take about 18 months. “You’re still talking two years away, and closer to two and a half,” Malone said.
Supply chain issues and increased construction costs are a concern, Malone added, but he hopes “it’s a temporary increase and they will moderate.”
Stopping Frivolous Suits
The initial list of 16 plaintiffs in the appeal was whittled down to 10 last fall, not long after the town and Malone requested that Land Court Judge Diane Rubin require a $50,000 bond.
A new provision in the state’s housing choice law allows judges to order those who appeal permits for affordable housing to post bonds of up to $50,000. The provision is aimed at discouraging frivolous lawsuits. The bond money may be forfeited to cover the defendants’ expenses if the appeal fails.
In November, Judge Rubin granted the bond request but lowered the amount to $25,000. In her ruling, the judge also expressed doubt regarding the legal standing of the appellants.
“Only one of the 10 plaintiffs is an actual abutter to the project site who is entitled to a presumption of standing,” Rubin wrote. That abutter is Christine Maxwell, who lives at 24 Highland Road. The other plaintiffs, Lauren P. Anderson, Abby Lynn Corea, George Dineen, Barbara Golding, Samantha Hayman, Joanne Hollander, Donald Horton, Alice Longley, and Eve M. Turchinetz, would have to prove that their properties would suffer adverse effects from the project greater than the effects the project would have on the general public, the judge said.
Attorney Reid said this week that his clients had not posted the $25,000 bond.
In her ruling, Judge Rubin cited several reasons for imposing the bond. Opponents had cited possible contamination to their wells from the project as a concern. Rubin noted that the planned wastewater system had been reviewed by a hydrologist.
“I consider the lengthy due diligence by the town, beginning in 2017,” wrote Rubin. “The due diligence encompassed extensive engineering analyses to extend the water line, along with various reports, site plans, and engineering plans.”
On Monday, state Sen. Julian Cyr, a Truro native, called the news of the resolution “terrific.”
“For me,” said Cyr, “this reiterates the value of the action the legislature took to limit frivolous lawsuits that only serve to advance Nimbyism.” Cloverleaf had been among the first projects to use the bond requirement.
“For too long, people who had no good reason to oppose projects were able to needlessly delay them,” Cyr said, characterizing Truro’s current proportion of its housing stock that is affordable, 2.3 percent, as “pathetic.”
Housing advocate Jay Coburn, president of the Community Development Partnership, said the need for affordable housing in the region “has never been so acute.”
“All you have to do is talk to providers of housing about their wait lists,” Coburn said. A recent lottery for some units in West Yarmouth drew over 600 applicants, he said.
A counter charge for trespassing, filed by the town against Maxwell for using a driveway on the target site to access her property from Route 6, was also dismissed by the court, attorney Reid confirmed, after Maxwell agreed to stop using the driveway.