Four years in and counting, the saga of Truro’s controversial Kline house continueth.
Quick recap: In 2008 building inspector Wingard issues a permit for the largest house in town at 8333 square feet. Neighbors immediately sue, putting the project in jeopardy, you would think, but nothing daunted, the Klines proceed full speed ahead. State courts rule in 2010 and 2011 that Wingard’s permitting logic to the contrary, tripling the size of the existing house cannot be construed as a “alteration” without stretching that term unacceptably out of shape. Given this ruling, the town in January orders Wingard to order the house torn down. Kline appeals are filed.
At this point, the house still stands; the town says it will not act to enforce the demolition order until legal issues are sorted out. There is a ZBA hearing on May 21.
The controversial house has been endlessly debated in letters to local papers. A popular argument declares the house anathema because it sits in the so-called Hopper View, what the famous artist whose cottage sits nearby saw out of one of his windows, the assumption being that he would have been disgusted at the sight of the Kline house. (A dubious assumption, given a lot of Hopper’s subjects.)
The bigness of the Kline house is held against it. The modest little Hopper cottage arouses underdog sympathies.
But are smaller houses in fact intrinsically more virtuous than big ones? Not to everyone. Somebody wrote a letter to the “Provincetown Banner” claiming that the architected Kline house is a lot better looking than the Hopper house. “If I were the Klines, I would be suing to tear down that ugly old Hopper house that’s spoiling their view.”
But the actual legal issue here has little to do with what an artist used to see out his window or the relative virtue of big vs. little houses. It’s really just about the meaning of the term “alteration”. But the controversy triggered goes beyond the legal details. What it comes down to finally is old-fashioned class struggle: the working and middle-class that created the traditional modest, unadorned look of this town versus a wealthier class and its lifestyle, values, and ostentatious architecture. Or as we might put it now, it’s the architecture of the 99% vs. that of the 1%.
This is a fight that neighboring Wellfleet fought recently and, in the eyes of most, won, when town meeting enthusiastically voted in zoning restricting house size. Wellfleet’s Kline house was the infamous Blasch house sited prominently on on a spit of land in the National Seashore . Was the Blasch house bad architecture? Actually some people admitted, if sheepishly, rather liking it. But in context it seemed to many arrogant–not the architecture per se but the social and economic meaning of it. It stood out like a sore thumb.
The Blasch house shoehorned its way in but it ended up being, in theory anyway, the last house of trophy house size when we legislated a more modest aesthetic.
Truro and Wellfleet have always felt like outer Cape sister towns, but in this crucial issue there are indications we may be parting ways, taking different routes into the future . In special town meeting last November Truro citizens failed to vote in proposed size restriction zoning.
If the anti-Kline house sentiment indicates a widely shared desire to discourage a change of town character in the direction of oversized, big-money housing, Truro is being pretty relaxed about putting that feeling into law.
Last year the Kline neighbors, also with pretty n ice houses, agreed to drop their suit, in exchange for some nice perks, including a deeded path to the beach. It is to be hoped that the town will not be swayed by what seems like the selfishness of this deal. With its mandate from the state court, the town has its own stake in seeing justice done. From south of the Wellfleet-Truro border I’m rooting for Truro’s ZBA to have the courage to follow through on the demolition order and demonstrate that big bucks and its architecture can’t always have their way.