O'Brien's Kline post riddled with inaccuracies

Editor's note: The following letter was received in response to Greg O'Brien's October 7 blog post entitled, "Kline offers new compromise: The value of negotiating for Truro".

To the editor:

Greg O’Brien’s blog post on the Kline house controversy in Truro ("The Value of Negotiating for Truro," 10/07/12) is yet another misrepresentation of what has happened. Here are his most inaccurate statements followed by corrections:

Town officials "claiming a directive to demolish the contemporary home despite the fact that complaining parties who had filed suit settled with the court more than a year ago":

Mrs. Kline asked the Appeals Court in June 2011 to direct the Land Court to dismiss the case because she and the plaintiffs had settled. On July 14, 2011, the Appeals Court denied Kline’s request. On November 2, 2011, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court denied Kline’s request for further appellate review. Thus the Courts have ruled unequivocally that the problem—a building permit issued in error—was not and can not be resolved by an out-of-court settlement among the original litigants. Truro Town Counsel is correct in asserting that the town cannot defy the Courts and must "stay the course".

The "state Land Court and Appeals Court ruled that the permit should not have been issued because the width of Stephens Way did not meet the Truro zoning code's definition of 'street'": In fact, both Courts ruled that the Kline property did not have the frontage required for all new homes in Truro. The 1816 Cobb house on the Kline property does not require frontage because it is "grandfathered" under current law. Because there is no frontage for a new house, the Truro Building Commissioner justified issuing a building permit because he believed the new house (five time larger and 200 feet away) could be called an "alteration" of the Cobb house. The Appeals Court rejected that reasoning in no uncertain terms. Note that in his January 20, 2012 order to Mrs. Kline to demolish the new house, the Building Commissioner wrote that the new house's "status as an alteration was a necessary element supporting the permits…"

The Klines violated "…a provision numerous homes in Truro constructed over the last 20 years have violated": In the past, wealthy Truro residents have made it clear that, if they weren’t allowed to break zoning regulations in order to build their dream houses, they would sue and stay in court longer than the Town would. This is precisely the practice that should stop. Because a law has been violated a hundred times does not mean that it’s all right to violate it for the hundred and first time. It is up to citizens to say "no more".

Mrs. Kline’s new proposed compromise, "resolves a conflict that has more to do with opinion on size and design than it does salient legal points": In fact, Mrs. Kline has proposed to gut the Cobb house and remove the third structure on the property (a cottage) for the follow reason as explained in the September 17, 2012 letter from her counsel to the Building Commissioner: "We believe that this would allow you as Building Commissioner to determine that the new home at 25-27 Stephens Way is a 'reconstruction' of the primary residence on the lot [the Cobb house]…." Trying to call the new house a reconstruction changes nothing because "reconstruction" in the Zoning Bylaw is defined as one type of alteration.

"[T]he real gripe of Stephens Way residents not involved in the litigation but now urging demolition of the new home, appears to be the home’s size and architecture": In fact, from the beginning, the overriding concern of Truro residents who have opposed the Kline house has been this: our laws must apply equally to everyone, including the wealthy and powerful. This is true for all laws in the United States, from the Bill of Rights to the zoning bylaw of a small town.

Don and Andrea Kline "contributed generously to cultural and community causes": In fact, several plaintiffs in the original suit have contributed just as generously to cultural and community causes as the Klines did. Giving money does not buy a pass for violating laws, including zoning laws.

Joanne Barkan
Truro, MA

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