DON'T WE ALREADY HAVE ADEQUATE PROTECTIONS?
Truro was the only town on the Cape that had not significantly updated its zoning bylaw protections to limit building size within the Cape Cod National Seashore since the legislation was enacted in 1961. Protective zoning is critical because the Seashore is a unique part of the National Park System, being the first to allow private ownership to remain within its boundaries. The enabling legislation encouraged the six towns comprising the Seashore to enact zoning regulations to protect the privately owned land in their Seashore Districts. Soon thereafter, the National Park Service adopted policy guidelines, which would provide owners with a guarantee that their properties would not be taken if they did not increase its habitable floor area by more than 50% of what existed in 1959, two years prior to enacting the legislation. For many years after the government’s acquisition by condemnation, this guideline prevented major expansions. However, as the National Park Service’s budget and appetite for property acquisition were reduced year after year, property owners came to realize that this guideline became a “paper tiger.” This guideline was not incorporated into the mandated zoning bylaws so there is nothing to prevent owners from expanding beyond the limits of the guideline if they so choose.
The Superintendent of the Cape Cod National Seashore Park had urged Truro to follow the example of other Cape towns and enact controls on building size. Several years ago, Wellfleet’s Zoning Bylaw was amended to establish a building size limit of 2,800 sq. ft. for a dwelling and a 3,600 sq. ft. limit for the total of all buildings on a property. Eastham required a Variance or Special Permit to increase the habitable floor of dwellings or accessory buildings area by more than 50% of the floor area. Eastham’s zoning regulations mirror the Cape National Seashore policy guidelines, however the Wellfleet model is more appropriate for Truro. Provincetown’s only housing in the Seashore is the dune shacks, which have their own special controls.
Truro’s other regulations (in addition to the original federally required Seashore District Zoning Bylaw provisions) include Planning Board Site Plan review for (1) additions exceeding 1,000 sq. ft., (2) adding a second story, or (3) construction or reconstruction of a dwelling. However, there is nothing to prevent buildings from being significantly expanded other than Board of Health septic limitations and Zoning Bylaw frontage and setback requirements. Given the large 3-acre zoned lots, these measures do not prevent the construction of very large houses. Further, the current Zoning Bylaw provisions allow for Site Plan Review to be waived by the Building Commissioner or Planning Board. For example, a former interim Building Commissioner waived Site Plan Review for the reconstruction of a 1,504 sq. ft. cottage into a 3,988 sq. ft. house, as illustrated above, justified as follows: “request of waiver for Site Plan Review based on the fact that the proposal does not substantially change the relationship of the structure to the site or abutting properties and/or structures. ”
Truro's Preserving Historic Properties (demolition delay) bylaw is applicable to properties that are over 75 years old; listed on or part of a pending application for listing on the National or State Register of Historic Places; historically or architecturally significant; or associated with one or more historic persons or events or with the architectural, cultural, political, economic or social history of the Town. This bylaw mandates a one-year review period to encourage owners to consider alternatives to demolition. However, after that period expires, the buildings can be demolished and replaced with much larger houses.
While many in the town are supportive of new building size limits to preserve the Seashore District, there are a number of strongly vocal opponents. Most accept the purpose of zoning law to balance private rights with public good, recognizing that what one does with one’s property often may have an impact on a neighbor’s property and even the entire community. Some people within the District feel that their property value will be diminished by controls for building size, while others are concerned that without such controls the overall town’s value will be diminished. Some of those who purchased or inherited property feel their “nest egg” is being taken away. Others feel that the unique rural and serene character of Truro’s Cape Cod National Seashore, which is why most people who live or visit Truro, will be destroyed by overdevelopment, “killing the goose that lays the golden egg.” Those who feel the Seashore District should be protected believe that owners of property in the District have a responsibility to preserve the landscape from which they benefit. This land has been set aside for the enjoyment of not just the residents of Truro, but for people from across the nation.