When Is A House Not A Home? East Orleans Rental Raises Questions

By: Ed Maroney

Topics: Housing and homelessness

The new building at 21 Great Oak Rd., with the original house on the left.  The former property remains under a demolition delay order from the historical commission that will expire next spring.  ED MARONEY PHOTO

ORLEANS “Our family builds charming, neighborly rental homes that fit into their surrounding communities,” reads the letter to neighbors of 21 Great Oak Rd. in East Orleans. The request for a building permit, which was granted in late August, called for “construction of a new residential home.”

That permit will be challenged Nov. 6 at the zoning board of appeals by an abutter who says the building, still under construction, is being advertised on a national short-term rental site as offering sleeping arrangements for up to 22 people.

“My supposition is that this is in fact a rental business in an area that’s zoned residential,” said the abutter who filed the appeal, Vince Ollivier, who lives directly across the street. “We don’t have a problem with people renting their homes, but we do have a problem with people not going through the process and being open and transparent with the town and their neighbors… My supposition is that it’s a business and they need to go before the zoning board of appeals for that.”

In a “Hello Neighbor!” letter dated July 18, Sean Campbell of Hydrangea Properties, LLC, wrote that, “My family and I are the new owners of 21 Great Oak Rd… Our family builds charming, neighborly rental homes that fit into their surrounding communities.” The letter goes on to say that Hydrangea is building “a classic, gambrel-style home set deeply on our property to blend seamlessly into the neighborhood,” offers an invitation to an open house next spring, and declares that “we will do our best to be good neighbors during our construction and for many years to come.”

Contacted by email for comment Monday, Campbell requested and was sent a list of questions early Tuesday. As the paper’s deadline neared, he wrote, “My apologies—we want to respond and we are going to, but with less than 24 hours notice we’re not ready to respond to meet your deadline today.”

In his appeal, Ollivier wrote of finding a listing for the new building on the short-term rental site VRBO. “There appears to be no intention for anyone to ‘reside’ at the property, but rather it is presently offered for vacation rental at all times (after construction)… The house, as designed, is not suited for single-family residential use. According to the VRBO listing, the house will offer at least seven parking spaces, one car garage, four washer/dryers, two laundry areas, bedroom accommodations for 22 people, full house central air conditioning, eight bathrooms, seven showers, 16 sinks, two dishwashers, two refrigerators, a wine refrigerator, icemaker, a 20-by-40-foot heated pool and hot tub and housekeeping services.”

According to Ollivier, “the construction of a residence wholly planned as a rental property is not allowed or provided for in these regulations. Nor is a business corporation of this type allowed in a residential zone as it exceeds the parameters provided for in the (town) Code.”

Ollivier is no stranger to rental properties. He and his partner, Kevin Galligan, a selectman, own jointly or separately four parcels of land directly across from 21 Great Oak Rd., and rent buildings on two of them to local people.

“We have four rentals and we take care of them,” he said. “They’re all local people with local jobs, including a pair of local young women who got out of college and rented with us six years or so. Currently, we have a guy who’s a chef in a local nursing home who’s also a local guy from Brewster. His girl friend is in social work. Then there’s a nurse who lives on the other side. When you drive by these homes, you have no idea they are actually duplexes.”

Ollivier said the changes proposed to 18 and 14 Great Oak Rd. were brought to the zoning board for review, a path not followed by Hydrangea Properties.

“We purchased 18 Great Oak Rd., the old Freeman house, from the Freemans,” Ollivier said. “We rehabbed the whole thing, slowly renovated it. We got two variances in order to do what we wished to do… We were rather steadfast about providing slightly below market rentals, and we’ve continued to do that.” A variance was sought as well for renovations to 14 Great Oak Rd. to add an apartment unit for Galligan’s mother.

“It’s a green house,” said Ollivier. “It uses 85 percent less energy than your usual.”

Ollivier grew up in the house at 22 Great Oak, where today he can see the big new building rising across the way. “More or less, this has always been a working man’s neighborhood,” he said, “even the people who lived here as old Cape Codders, all had been working people. There were not a lot of well-to-do retirees. They were up the street quite a ways… It’s a neighborhood of mostly antique homes. Those folks who did build built within a framework of what was, in their mind, Cape Cod… The working man’s neighborhood has evolved—you might say devolved—into some more seasonal homes and larger homes that appeal to a different class of people.”

Great Oak Road “was a great place to grow up,” said Ollivier. “A lot of people raised families here. It’s one thing to have a large house in the neighborhood with a family and a bunch of kids perhaps and you know them, and when there are issues you go over and talk to their parents. The potential of this place (across the street) being turned over on a weekly basis with 22 people living there… who the hell do you talk to and who will you know? You’ll need to rely on town services to police them. I don’t think that’s very fair to the taxpayers and the people in the neighborhood.”

Ollivier’s appeal is scheduled as the seventh of nine to be heard by the zoning board at its Nov. 6 meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. “I’m bringing a sleeping bag,” he said.