The Cape Cod Commission has decided to steer clear of the political hot button issue that Vincent P. Michienzi’s proposed parking lot on the site of the historic Keene House has become.
Last Thursday afternoon, commission members told town leaders that they are not interested in refereeing what they consider to be a local political fight.
“Rather than invoke a problem for the Cape Cod Commission, why don’t we just turn this thing down and let them go back and fight their battles in Bourne,” Roger L. Putnam, the commission’s representative from Wellfleet said.
Last week, the commission voted to reject a request from the Bourne Board of Selectmen to review the proposed parking lot project at 9 Sandwich Road as a Development of Regional Impact (DRI).
In making their decision, commission members said that accepting the request for discretionary referral of the project would be an exercise in futility since Mr. Michienzi already has the necessary local permits in place to proceed, and construction has already begun. In fact, clearing of the property around the historic home began a couple of weeks ago. Half a dozen construction vehicles—excavators, frontloaders, bobcats, plows—are parked on the property where driveways have been plowed leading to the cleared area behind the house that fronts Sandwich Road.
Ahead of the full commission meeting, the agency’s regulatory subcommittee met and voted to recommend approving a limited discretionary referral of the project, based on historic preservation. Member Elizabeth G. Taylor of Brewster argued in favor of limiting the scope of the referral to only what is done with the 323-year-old house.
In presenting his review of the selectmen’s request, Jonathon J. Idman, chief regulatory officer for the commission, noted that the Bourne Planning Board and the Bourne Conservation Commission have already issued permits, and the appeal period for those permits has passed. Based on those permits being issued and the appeal periods having passed, Bourne building inspector Roger M. Laporte issued a building permit having determined that the project complied with the local zoning bylaws, Mr. Idman said.
“DRI review is generally tied to the ability to control the issuance of local permits and approvals, and the performance of local work. Because of the timing of this discretionary referral, that cannot happen here,” he said.
Selectman Donald J. Pickard told the committee that he had opposed the request for a DRI review. The referral was sought by fellow selectman Donald E. (Jerry) Ellis, the former chairman of the Bourne Historical Commission, as a way of gaining control of the Keene House after the town was outbid by Mr. Michienzi on the purchase price, he said. He called the review request “a flagrant abuse of an elected public official’s position” and said the 3-2 vote that resulted in the town turning to the commission did not mean it was the appropriate thing to do.
“I would suggest the minority vote in this matter was the correct position,” he said, asking that the commission reject the request.
Mr. Ellis told the commission that while Mr. Pickard might disagree with the 3-2 vote “we still are in a democratic society, and the three of us are a majority.” Mr. Ellis went on to explain the historic significance of the Keene House. He said the Bourne Historical Commission is considering designating the entire area where the house is located as a national historic district. He also pointed out that, in a letter from last year, the commission’s own historic specialist, Sarah P. Korjeff, wrote, “given the Keene House early construction, date, good condition and relationship to Bourne Village, I suggest that the town should do all it can to ensure its preservation.”
Mr. Ellis said that selectmen wanted the commission’s experts to scrutinize the project plan to ensure that all zoning bylaws are properly applied and enforced, that the historic nature of the area is not disturbed, and the health, safety and welfare of the public is not endangered.
Eliza Z. Cox of the law firm Nutter, McClennen & Fish LLP in Hyannis, representing Mr. Michienzi, echoed Mr. Idman’s argument that all the necessary local permits are in place. She added that there needs to be “an endpoint” with all regulatory programs.
“There has to be a finality to a review process, and in this case, the property owner followed all the correct processes and procedures and steps with the town,” she said. She added that it is not the commission’s role to review a town’s bylaws, as suggested by Mr. Ellis. “That’s the town’s role to review a project consistent with their local bylaw,” she said.
Ms. Cox went on to say that the project was filed with the planning board on August 6. She said that would have been the time to approach the commission if there were concerns about regional impacts.
“Not now, not after all the permits have been obtained, and construction has started,” she said.
She also noted that Mr. Michienzi has no plans for demolishing the house. She said that he has, in fact, rented it out to someone who is in the process of moving in. If Mr. Michienzi does consider destroying the house at some point in the future, he would have to go before the historic commission and get a demolition order from the town, she said.
Bourne Planning Board chairman Christopher J. Farrell said that turning to the commission was an insult to his board and the other town boards that granted permits for the project. Mr. Farrell argued that the Cape Cod Commission’s authority should not be abused by groups that did not get their way.
“There were appeal periods, they didn’t utilize them, and it didn’t go their way, and they should have taken it to court if they wanted to stop it,” Mr. Farrell said.
Mr. Farrell confirmed that there has been no indication by Mr. Michienzi that he intends to demolish the house. If such an intention is expressed in the future, the developer would have to file for a demolition order and the town’s historic groups would have their say at that time, he said.
“This is a local issue; shame on the Town of Bourne for being here,” he said.
Paul J. Niedzwiecki, executive director for the Cape Cod Commission, agreed that the time had passed for appealing the permits approved by the local boards and committees.
“The local permitting process is done, so the applicant has the right to build what he has been permitted to built. There’s no action from the commission that could stay that,” Mr. Niedzwiecki said.
Mr. Niedzwiecki said that towns looking for discretionary review by the commission have to act in a timely fashion. He said that the only enforcement mechanism that the commission possesses is the ability to stop permits from being issued.
“When permits have already been issued, there’s very little that we can do,” he said.
Mr. Putnam agreed that the 9 Sandwich Road project was a local issue. He said that the proper recourse would have been for the applicants to take legal action against the permitting agency, and the commission should not put itself in a position “where it can be used in lieu of the courts.”
He also argued that accepting this case would give credence to critics of the Cape Cod Commission who consider them “a bunch of busybodies that don’t belong on the Cape anyway.”
The commission turned down the request for DRI review, with only Ms. Taylor, who had successfully convinced the regulatory subcommittee to recommend a limited discretionary review based on historic preservation, voting against the motion to reject.