Large Swath Of West Falmouth Coastline Protected From Development
By: ELIZABETH W. SAITO, July 28, 2014
After two years of negotiations and paperwork, a seven-acre parcel of dune land that includes over a thousand-foot stretch of beach south of Chapoquoit Beach is now permanently preserved as open space.
In June Daniel H. Shearer of West Falmouth and his sister Elizabeth C. Hills sold a conservation restriction on the property to The 300 Committee Land Trust for $75,000. Land under conservation restriction is still privately owned, but may never be developed. This is the first time The 300 Committee has paid to acquire a conservation restriction. The purchase was a joint venture between The 300 Committee and the Buzzards Bay Coalition, which have teamed up to preserve land along Falmouth’s west coast.
The protected 7.2 acres are part of a larger 10-acre property that includes a house that has seen five major additions since it was built as a one-room fishing shack without running water in the 1950s by Mr. Shearer’s parents. The entire property is for sale for $5 million.
On a calm gray morning last week, Mr. Shearer stood before the corner windows of the house’s second-floor master bedroom. His wife, Deborah L. Shearer, sat on the bed. This gave the couple a view south over the seven protected acres and also west across Buzzards Bay. “The reason I wanted to save this is because I just love the land and I want it to stay open,” Mr. Shearer said. Mr. Shearer noted the conservation restriction has only decreased the annual taxes on the property by $128—“So you can see, we did not do it for the tax reduction.”
Ms. Shearer said negotiating the conservation restriction involved a lot of fine print. “It was 10 times more complicated than we thought it would be,” she said. “Between the conservation commission, the state, the feds, the forms—I’m still sending in forms.”
“I would never have done the paperwork, I can guarantee that,” said Mr. Shearer, who particularly credited his wife and 300 Committee administrator Jessica E. Whritenour for bringing the deal to fruition.
Mr. and Ms. Shearer then walked from the house down a set of wooden steps to the beach and along the tide line until they came to the edge of the property. Climbing the steep dune and looking back toward the house over a sweep of coastal heath land, Mr. Shearer said, “This is the view I love. I used to come down to the dune there and just sit.”
He then explained that the seven acres under conservation restriction were already considered “unbuildable”.
“But the worry was that a person with a cast of Boston lawyers would take this bit of high ground and build a house,” Ms. Shearer said.
The Shearers live year-round in a condominium a mile away on Old Dock Road. Mr. Shearer owns Nautical & Nice, a gift shop attached to his son’s business, Paine’s Patio in Pocasset, and is active in town government.
Mr. and Ms. Shearer both grew up spending summers in the Chapoquoit area. They met as children, and began dating when Ms. Shearer was 19.
The address of the beach house and the seven acres under conservation restriction is 45 Little Neck Bars Road. The house is the first structure south of Bowerman’s Beach Club, which is just south of Chapoquoit Beach.
The area is popular with kite-surfers, one of whom made a significant gift toward the purchase of the conservation restriction, according to 300 Committee president Leonard W. Johnson.
The house is currently vacant, but was rented for the past 19 years to Jay M. Cashman of Jay Cashman, Inc., the Boston-based construction company that held the contract for the Big Dig, Ms. Shearer said. If the property does not sell by the end of the summer, Mr. Shearer said, he will probably try to attract another renter, .
Brendan J. Annett, vice president of watershed protection at the Buzzards Bay Coalition, said the Shearer property is a combination of dunes and coastal shrub and heath land. “That’s a characteristic landscape of Cape Cod: open dunes backed by heath land,” Mr. Annett said. This type of landscape is “much less prevalent” than it used to be because “those are the places that we love to put houses,” he said.
When asked what the utility of preserving these environments was, Mr. Annett said, “The reason we come to Cape Cod is the beauty of the coastline. So where’s the utility? It’s a beautiful natural coastline that can’t be found in other places.”
Mr. Annett also said that land conservation enhances coastal water quality in three ways. It prevents new septic systems from being built; it prevents the planting of artificial landscapes that require nitrogen fertilizers; and it protects the natural ability of undeveloped land to absorb nitrogen (from septic systems) and prevent the nutrient from degrading coastal waters.
“We’re extraordinarily proud of this partnership working, both with The 300 Committee and the Shearers,” Mr. Annett said. The 300 Committee and Buzzards Bay Coalition fundraised jointly to purchase the conservation restriction, which was valued at $450,000, six times what the two groups paid for it.
The 300 Committee and Buzzards Bay Coalition have announced a shared goal of preserving a total of 30 acres along Falmouth’s Buzzards Bay coastline. Ms. Whritenour said the Shearers’ property was the first step toward that goal. “They set the tone,” she said.