The Starter Castle Movement that has raped the Cape’s coastline since the late 1980s shows no sign of abating. The ongoing tear-down and replacement of the original inventory of old shingled summer mansions built at the turn of the 19th century with wedding caked, turreted displays of Pella windows and Chem-Lawned swards of grass is enough to make me launch into a jeremiad of nostalgia. The view has changed, at least for we peons who sail by and have to peer up at the messes, but for the wealthy waterfront homeowner, the view out the window towards Nantucket Sound remains as pristine as ever. No coincidence that this upper echelon of the public led the hue and cry against the construction of a wind farm three miles offshore: the thought of anything sullying their vistas broke out the checkbooks in a flurry of environmental hand wringing.
Another thing that drives me nuts is the new obsession with outdoor lighting and the resulting light pollution. Some of these quaint $20 million haciendas are lit up like ocean liners at night, their balustrades and eaves covered with big honking spot lights to either deter pain-killer crazed burglars or show off the nitrogen-leeching Kentucky Blue Grass growing under the sprinklers. For someone on the opposite shore, the glare is beyond annoying and inspires fantasies of a Seal Team 6 sniper with a scope the size of a wine bottle.
When I was a cub reporter for the Cape Cod Times in the summer of 1980, one of my beats was the waterfront. At a hearing of the department of natural resources on the legality of clamming with hydraulic pumps, an interesting clash of the two poles of Cape Cod society occurred in town hall. On one side of the room were three dozen commercial quahoggers: eternally tanned, biceps the size of footballs from wrestling with a bullrake all day, hands stained black from the primordial mud at the bottom of the bays, mostly moustachioed and bearded like a biker gang. On the other side was a half dozen waterfront matrons dressed in Lily Pulitzer pink and green. They hated the sight and sound of the quahoggers working the shallows in front of their manses and wanted it stopped. A local real estate agent kicked things off by reminding the town fathers that these poor ladies paid a disproportionate amount of taxes, only resided in the town three or four months out of the year, and at the very least deserved some peace and quiet. Then, one brave matron took to the microphone and in describing how close the clammers came to her rose garden said, “They’re out there, making all this noise, about a nine-iron shot away.”
I’m convinced the clammers won the right to keep clamming thanks to the golf reference.
Thirty years later and the current hypocrisy of the burghers of Popponesset Island has to remarked upon. Popponesset is in Mashpee — probably one of the most weirdly incorporated and developed towns in the State thanks to its historical status as the “reservation” of the Wampanoag Indian tribe. Property ownership and development in Mashpee has always had some controversy, with land titles clouded, ancient burial grounds unearthed as nitrogen-spewing golf courses are bulldozed, and the tribe constantly rattling the legal threat of reclaiming its ancestral lands.
A commercial clammer — the term now is probably “aquaculturist” — sought permission from the Town of Mashpee to maintain a shellfish grant off the shores of Popponesset Island, a place my alma mater Forbes Magazine allegedly deemed one of the most affluent places in America thanks to an average household income of $250,000. He was given permission but the waterfront property owners swung into action, claiming, first and foremost, that the clamming operation would interfere with their view. Let’s keep in mind the waters are public property and aquaculture is a big business in most Cape towns, let alone the fact that clams are a sign of a healthy harbor.
This is extremely ironic since their view is of Cotuit, where, thanks to the philanthropic efforts of one extraordinary old summer family and the Barnstable Land Trust, most of the southern shores of the town is pristine, undeveloped saltmarsh and pine forests. If you stand in Cotuit on those undeveloped lands — Ryefield Point or Crocker Neck — and look southwest across Popponesett Bay to the proposed site of the aquaculture grant (which is submerged and would be marked by a few buoys) you see Starter Castle after Starter Castle, some ablaze at night in a riot of floodlights, packed together, jetskis tied to the docks. Doing their best to poison the shore.
The Cape Cod Times writes this morning:
“The view from any of the homes on Popponesset Island is nothing less than postcard-perfect.
The picturesque island enclave boasts beautifully constructed homes and even more stunning natural views of the surrounding scenery.
Home prices stretch into the millions, and in January the area was named one of the nation’s most affluent neighborhoods by Forbes magazine.
Reaching the island requires a boat, or a drive over a one-lane bridge.
It’s this off-the-beaten-path charm that attracted its affluent residents — and that has pitted a group of them against the Mashpee Board of Selectmen for approving a shellfish grant homeowners believe will destroy it.
“This impairs their private property rights in a number of respects,” said attorney Brian Wall of Sandwich, who represents a group of 18 residents. “It’s basically going to be a commercial operation 30 feet away from a residential property.””
The head-shaking news that the Cotuit property of Frank and Jamie McCourt, (the battling divorcing destroyers of the Los Angeles Dodgers) is on the market for $50 million and knowing fate and circumstance, will probably be carved up into a nest of new McMansions by some developer/real-estate-agent-to-the-stars; the tear-down of Cotuit’s historic Hotel Pines; and the ongoing trashing of the harbors by human waste … Thirty years ago the preservationists of the Cape were warning the peninsula was on the road towards becoming the next Long Island. I fear we’ve arrived.