THE AVERAGE residential building-permit dispute in rural Massachusetts doesn’t usually garner widespread attention, but nothing about the Kline house in Truro is average. Nearly one year after issuing a certificate of occupancy for the completed home, the Town of Truro ordered the owner to demolish the glass-and-concrete structure.
The flat, modern residence sticks out both because of its style - Truro’s rolling landscape is dotted primarily by Cape Cod-style clapboard and shingle structures - and because, at 8,333 square feet, the house boasts Truro’s largest living area. It also sits steps away from the place where Edward Hopper once summered on the Cape and painted his view, which had hardly changed in the century before Florida residents Donald and Andrea Kline began constructing their home in 2008.
Now, Andrea Kline, whose husband passed away in 2009, is appealing the demolition order, so a court must decide whether to dismiss the litigation that led to the order in the first place. It should, since the neighbors who initiated the case have since settled with the Kline family. It would do no good to destroy a home that no longer has neighbors petitioning for its removal. Furthermore, the underlying objections are quirky and unpersuasive.
Critics of the home painted the Klines as wealthy out-of-staters bent on sidestepping rules to build their house. When plans for the building became public record, neighbors cried foul: The modern structure wouldn’t blend in with its surroundings because it looked less like a traditional New England home and more like, as one resident put it, the welcoming center for a medium-sized Midwestern museum. And it would also spoil the historic nature of the neighborhood, they argued, because the house would cut through the desolate view made famous by Hopper.
But when the opponents made their way to state land court, the case hinged on narrow disputes over two Truro bylaws: because the town classified construction of the mansion as an “alteration’’ to the property, and because the new structure would be reachable by too narrow a road, opponents argued that town building inspector Thomas Wingard should never have issued a permit.
But Truro’s interpretation of its own laws strongly favors the Kline family. According to town officials, the town regularly defines a broad range of construction projects as “alterations.’’ And while Truro law restricts construction on roads narrower than 40 feet, because a high percentage of Truro’s roads don’t meet that 40-foot minimum, the town regularly ignores that bylaw. It’s a piece of zoning that seems particularly out of place on the Cape, where wide roads can be more intrusive than large homes.
Nonetheless, the land court agreed with the neighbors’ interpretation of the law, causing the town to reverse its permit and order the structure’s removal. Later, however, the neighbors decided to drop their case, in return for the Kline family agreeing to set aside land on their 9-acre property for environmental conservation and pay the neighbors’ legal fees. Unfortunately, because the settlement occurred too late in the process, the town is obliged to carry out the demolition order - unless an appeals court decides to dismiss the proceedings altogether. Countless time, money, and energy has been wasted on this pointless legal process. It will be a shame if, as a result of that litigation, a perfectly fine home is wasted as well.
Truro may well need to update its laws to reconcile them with longstanding practice. But the Kline family should be left to enjoy their house in peace.