2020 Commercial 023-025


An abutter-versus-developer fight over this parcel that began in 1960 was not concluded until a year and a half later, after it reached the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. The case of John C. Van Arsdale vs. Town of Provincetown (344 Mass. 146) pitted Van Arsdale (1919-1997), the founder of the Provincetown-Boston Airline, who lived at 27 Commercial Street, and Alfred T. Manacher, who lived at 21 Commercial Street, against the developer Ray Martan Wells (1908-2011). She and her husband, Nicholas Wells (1905-1985), owned the parcel between Van Arsdale and Manacher. They proposed to erect two buildings on the lot, all but identical in outward appearance. The key difference was that the north building was to have two dwelling units, while the south building was to have four dwelling units. On the face of it, the south building ran afoul of the zoning bylaw, which specified “single or two family dwellings not exceeding three per lot” in this particular district.”

However, the Wellses argued through their lawyer, S. Osborn Ball, the south building ought to be regarded as two two-family dwellings, since the structure would be completely divided by an internal masonry wall, eight inches thick, from cellar to roof. The Supreme Court was having none of it.  Justice Arthur Easterbrook Whittemore (1896-1969) wrote in April 1962:

A building to be occupied by four families would be a four family dwelling. The proposed four apartment structure is one building or zoning law dwelling for the purposes of this section [of the bylaw]. The architect’s plan so describes it (“South Building”) and in common sense that is what it is. Of course, as the respondents contend, for some purposes a building is no less that because it shares a party wall with another building. … With or without such a wall the North Building and the South Building each has the same outward appearance, and brings the same number of families under the same roof.

Eight months later, the Wellses sold the 23 Commercial Street lot to the Manachers and Van Arsdale (or, more exactly, to Provincetown-Boston Airline). Van Arsdale transferred his share to the Manachers in 1968. Rhoda (Perlstein) Rossmore (1925-2015) bought the property in 1979. The structure that stands there now was built in 1985, town records say. Keith Leslie Hayes of Ashprington, England, purchased 23 Commercial in 2015 for $3.2 million.

¶ Last updated on 4 May 2018.


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