EASTHAM — A 1.3-acre vacant lot located off Cable Road and within walking distance of Nauset Light Beach is on the market for $740,000 — and it is being touted as “a rare opportunity to live in the National Seashore Park surrounded by parkland.”
That certainly is the truth.
Most of the undeveloped lots in the Cape Cod National Seashore were taken by eminent domain by the National Park Service in the decade or so following the establishment of the Seashore as a national park in 1961. The landowners were paid an amount based on a fair market appraisal, according to Seashore Planner Lauren McKean.
There were more than 2,000 such land transactions during the 1960s and early ’70s. Only 615 properties within the 43,000-acre park remain under private ownership, McKean said.
But the vacant property at 0 K St. was approved last year by the Eastham Planning Board for construction of a 2,980-square-foot modern farmhouse. The status of the lot, as well as the size of the proposed house, have both been vigorously contested by National Seashore staff.
Ben Zehnder, the attorney representing the current owners Frank and Linda Noto, had pursued site-plan approval to establish that a house could be built on the lot. That approval by the planning board has boosted the presumed value of the property from the town’s assessment, $51,100, to its current asking price of $740,000. The lot went on the market on Nov. 1, shortly after the expiration of the period during which the approval could have been appealed.
According to Denise Kopasz, the real estate broker who listed the property, the Notos had planned to build a house there but have instead put it on the market “due to a change in family circumstances.” They currently own a house on the adjacent lot.
The Cape Cod National Seashore includes land in Provincetown, Truro, Wellfleet, Eastham, Orleans, and Chatham. Owners of properties that were developed before 1959 could secure a “certificate of suspension of condemnation” from the Seashore. Those certificates suspended the right of the National Park Service to take the land by eminent domain and allowed the owners to retain their ownership rights in perpetuity. Properties without buildings had no such protection.
The vacant 0 K St. property, along with an adjacent property with a house on it, had a single deed and were under the same ownership as far back as the 1940s. When the park was established, the owners secured a certificate of suspension of condemnation covering the pair of properties, saying they considered the undeveloped area a part of the lot with the house on it.
The two properties have changed hands a few times since then and have continued to enjoy protection under certificates of suspension acquired by the subsequent owners.
The Notos purchased the lots in 1986 and initially approached the National Seashore in 2020 about splitting the two parcels and building a new house on the undeveloped portion. The National Seashore opposed the plan and continues to contend that the owners have treated the two properties as a single lot, which has served to protect the undeveloped parcel from being taken by eminent domain for more than 50 years.
In a letter to the planning board, Seashore Supt. Brian Carlstrom expressed opposition to site-plan approval for a house on the undeveloped parcel. “Despite having benefited from this assertion for more than a half century,” Carlstrom wrote, “the Notos now contend that the parcels are separate buildable lots.”
In the Park Service’s view, building on the open parcel would result in two single-family dwellings on a single tract, said Carlstrom. Eastham’s Seashore zoning district requires at least three acres for a building lot, he said, and the 0 K St. lot comprises only 1.3 acres.
Carlstrom warned that, if the proposal was approved by the planning board, the certificate of suspension on the Notos’ properties would be invalidated, and the new lot “would be put on the National Seashore’s land acquisition priority list.”
Meanwhile, the planning board factored into its consideration that the property owned by the Notos is part of the Nauset Beach Plan, a subdivision plan drawn up more than 100 years ago. Many of the lots were never developed, and several streets continue to exist only on paper. Most of those undeveloped properties on the plan were taken by eminent domain by the National Seashore, and the undeveloped lot the Notos own would likely have been taken as well, McKean said.
The town’s lawyer, as well as Zehnder, pointed out the lot with the Notos’ house and the adjacent undeveloped lot are identified as individual lots separated by a paper street on the old subdivision plan. Since the subdivision predated the adoption of zoning laws, the lots were grandfathered and didn’t have to meet restrictions like the three-acre minimum size.
And although the 2,980-square-foot new house would be dramatically larger than other homes in the neighborhood, Zehnder argued that it would not affect the character of the neighborhood because it would not be visible from the road.
The planning board approved the site plan, and the National Seashore did not take the town to court to file an appeal.
While the National Seashore could now take the land by eminent domain, it has not had enough money to do any land purchasing for the past several years.
Eastham Town Planner Paul Lagg said the debate over the land at 0 K St. demonstrates the conflict that can sometimes happen when a property falls under two different jurisdictions.
“They don’t always line up,” Lagg said. “We try as best we can to work collaboratively with the Seashore, but from time to time local zoning doesn’t line up exactly with what the Seashore’s standards are designed to do.”
Such was the case for the Notos’ lot, Lagg added.
“For the town’s regulatory purposes, we consider it two lots separated by a paper street, but the Seashore considers it one lot,” he said.