Singular Truro site spared — for now

Anton Schiffenhaus, one of the owners of the Truro cottage where artist Edward Hopper lived, challenged the construction of a mansion that altered the view known as “Hopper’s Landscape.’’ Anton Schiffenhaus, one of the owners of the Truro cottage where artist Edward Hopper lived, challenged the construction of a mansion that altered the view known as “Hopper’s Landscape.’’ (Julia Cumes/ 2007)
By Peter Schworm
Globe Staff / April 19, 2010

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Edward Hopper fans can rejoice, at least for the moment. The artist’s celebrated view from his studio window in the Truro dunes, a sweeping vista of rolling hills, sky, and shimmering water that inspired some of his best-known work, has a chance to be restored after all.

In the latest chapter in a roiling Outer Cape dispute, the land court has struck down a building permit for a mansion being built next door to the former Hopper cottage, halting construction of the multimillion-dollar house, which is well on its way toward completion, and returning the legal clash to the town’s zoning board.

“My clients are delighted by the decision, and confident the zoning board will rule in their favor,’’ said Brian Kaplan, a Newton lawyer representing four neighbors who mounted a legal challenge to the house, asserting it would spoil their views and hurt property values.

Two of the neighbors live in Hopper’s former home; a third, Alan Solomont, is a major donor to the Democratic party and the US ambassador to Spain.

Kaplan said that unless the zoning board signs off on further construction, the modern-style mansion would have to be demolished.

Donald Kline, a businessman who had sought to build the house with his wife, Andrea, died in September, and in recent months construction on the home has slowed.

A lawyer for Andrea Kline did not return a call seeking comment.

Two years ago, the board narrowly approved the project, which neighbors quickly challenged in court. They were backed by Hopper enthusiasts keen on protecting the view known as the “Hopper Landscape,’’ and tradition-minded residents who have bristled at the proliferation of large homes.

The owners, who fulfilled a host of requirements to secure a building permit, asserted that they can do as they see fit on their 9-acre property, provided they comply with local bylaws. Before breaking ground in 2008, more than a year after they bought the site, they paid for a search of Native American artifacts and a study of a threatened dune shrub that would be destroyed by the construction, and agreed to set aside two-thirds of their land as open space.

Last Monday, the land court found in the neighbors’ favor and remanded the case to the zoning board. In his decision, Justice Gordon H. Piper concluded that because the narrow dirt road that runs to the property, called Stephens Way, does not comply with current zoning, the owners need special permission to build the new home.

The five-member zoning board must decide whether the project will be “substantially more detrimental to the neighborhood’’ than the existing home on the site, he added. Four zoning board members’ approval is needed for special permits, Kaplan said.

Truro town planner Charleen Greenhalgh said she had not yet received the court’s ruling, but the zoning board would make plans to revisit the project.

She was unsure what would happen to the uncompleted house should the board deny the permit. “I honestly don’t know what happens,’’ she said.

When the zoning board upheld the permit two years ago, the vote was 2-2, with one abstention.

Hopper bought the home in 1934 and painted there most summers until his death in 1967.

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