The neighbors hated this building long before its developer, Kent E. Coutinho (1943-2005) — a/k/a Kent Kellogg Edwards — ever put a shovel in the ground in 1981. They battled it at the Conservation Commission. They formed RAZE: Residents Advocating Zoning Enforcement. They continued to fight the project all the way to the Massachusetts Appeals Court in 1985, even after the building was finished, hoping to enforce their interpretation of a footnote in the zoning by-law governing setback distances. But Coutinho prevailed. So the house stands today, in all its eccentricity.
It occupies the southern half of what was an extraordinarily large waterfront lot, with 132 feet of harbor frontage. The lot was owned by George Fillmore Miller Jr. (1900-1978), whose home was directly across the street, at 82 Commercial Street. It passed to his daughter Mary (Miller) Henrique (1932-2011). She sold the lot to Coutinho in 1979.
Coutinho, the owner of the Kent Edwards Real Estate agency in the 1970s and ’80s, “bought and sold many properties, some under clouded circumstances,” The Advocate said in his obituary, adding that Coutinho was “described as difficult to deal with by a long-time neighbor and as frequently pushing the limits of the law.” Several former employees and associates had similarly cool words. “I don’t think he was an admirable individual,” one said, though he continued, “He made an impact.”
He certainly did at 89 Commercial. The original building permit was granted in 1981, The Advocate said in a detailed article, as were his septic plans.¹ Coutinho subsequently subdivided the lot into two equal parcels and, in June 1981, sold the north parcel (91 Commercial Street) to Rep. Gerry E. Studds (1937-2006), whose congressional district included Cape Cod, and Russell A. Lukes.
Neighbors filed suit, The Advocate said, alleging a violation of health and zoning regulations and accusing the building and health inspectors of collusion with Coutinho. The Conservation Commission jumped in as well, seeking to compel Coutinho to resubmit his plans after the lot was subdivided. The Town of Provincetown filed suit to halt construction. “That suit was never heard, however, because Coutinho’s partially constructed house was burned to the ground on August 16, 1981.”
The second project called for a real estate office on the property, which the town’s building inspector said would not be allowed in the residential West End district. (That plan may explain the bifurcated design of the structure.) In 1983, the two chief regulatory issues that remained unsettled were the distance between the house foundations and the proposed septic tank, and whether the house had to be set back 20 feet from the property line, rather than ±14.72 feet, as constructed.
The Conservation Commission reluctantly approved the plan to build a septic tank less than 10 feet from the house. “Frankly, I think this is an ugly building and wish it wasn’t going to be built there,” Charles Atkins “Stormy” Mayo III, a commission member, said at the time. But, Mayo said, “I don’t see how we’re in a position to deny this application.” And in 1985, the Massachusetts Appeals Court said that under its reading of Provincetown’s zoning law, Coutinho was “free to choose between 20 or 14.72 feet.
Coutinho sold 89 Commercial Street in 1999 to Ronald L. Chapman of Fort Lauderdale, doing business as R. L. Chapman Properties – Geneva LLC.
¶ Last updated on 25 July 1989.
¹ “ConCom Okays Countinho Plans,” The Advocate, 3 November 1983.
For further reading online
Max Berman and others vs. Kent E. Coutinho and others (20 Mass. App. Ct. 969), Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and Appeals Court Cases, Massachusetts Cases.