Trial Date Set For Monomoy Theatre Property Appeal

by Tim Wood
The former Monomoy Theatre property along Chatham’s Main Street. TIM WOOD PHOTO The former Monomoy Theatre property along Chatham’s Main Street. TIM WOOD PHOTO

CHATHAM – A trial date has been set for the two lawsuits filed against the town by the owner of the former Monomoy Theatre property.

State Land Court Judge Kevin Smith set June 17 to begin the trial in the lawsuits Chatham Productions LLC filed against the zoning board of appeals in late 2022. A pre-trial conference is set for May 13.

In January, Smith denied a motion for summary judgment filed by Chatham Productions, writing that “there are genuine issues of material fact that require a trial.” He specified the question of whether the zoning board acted “arbitrarily or unreasonably,” as the owner claims in the suits, when it denied special permits to build single-family homes at 10 and 15 Annabelle Lane.

Annabelle Lane was created as part of a subdivision of the 2.7-acre property that backs up to Depot Road, on which four lots were created for construction of single-family homes. A separate lot was created at 776 Main St. containing the former theater and the historic Washington Taylor House.

Chatham Productions owner Gregory Clark purchased the former theater property in 2019 for $3.65 million. After several proposed development plans fell through, Clark subdivided the property. Because the land is zoned for general business, special permits from the zoning board were required to build single-family homes on the new lots.

Clark brought development plans for two of the lots to the zoning board but faced opposition from both neighboring property owners and board members, who said the proposals were not appropriate for the business district and the neighborhood. Their decisions found that the proposals did not meet the special permit criteria and were not in keeping with the character of the neighborhood or the purpose of the zoning bylaw. Both residents and board members cited the impact the larger homes would have on adjacent Veterans Field.

In the suits, Clark contended that the proposals met the bylaw’s requirements and that for years there were four dwellings on the property, making the plans consistent with its historic use. With the theater, a laundromat and other mixed commercial-residential buildings in the neighborhood, the finding that the proposal would be inappropriate for the area was merely speculative, the suit asserted.

According to a summary on the court website, Chatham Productions’ attorney Paul Revere argued during a Jan. 8 videoconference that the court should order the zoning board to issue the permit because the board did not address the special permit criteria in the zoning bylaw and applied incorrect criteria, which rendered the decision arbitrary and capricious. He also asserted that there was a lack of detailed explanation for the denial. Chatham Town Counsel Patrick Costello countered that there was evidence in the record supporting the board’s denial, which was within its discretion under the bylaw.

As of late last week the two separate suits had not been consolidated by the court. Given the common elements of the two cases, Costello said in an email that they are being treated as “parallel appeals” and he expected they would be consolidated for trial June 17, “with appropriate measures taken to address the unique aspects of each case.”

The theater and Washington Taylor House have remained vacant and closed up since Clark purchased the property. He has said that development of the rear portion of the land is necessary to support restoration of the two historic buildings and the reopening of the theater.