Reprinted from Cape Cod Times Feb 14, 2017
SANDWICH — After two years of back-and-forth, the Justice Resource Institute is one step closer to opening a school for 11 special needs students on Route 6A in Sandwich.
On Tuesday, despite continued opposition of neighbors, the Old King’s Highway Regional Historic District Commission upheld the Sandwich Old King’s Highway Historic District Committee’s approval last month of the nonprofit group’s plans to build a new school at 209 Route 6A.
The school, which recently changed its name from Southeast Alternative School to Anchor Academy, is for students with social, emotional, behavioral or learning disabilities, and currently has campuses in Middleboro and at Camp Lyndon in Sandwich.
The Justice Resource Institute has floated three plans for the new Route 6A school building in the past two years. The organization pulled the first proposal after a negative response from the community and revised it. The second proposal was rejected by the local historic district committee for disrupting the historic aesthetic of the neighborhood, a decision that was upheld by the regional commission.
JRI appealed that decision in Barnstable District Court, but the case was dismissed.
In January, the local committee approved a new plan that shrunk the proposed school by more than 50 percent and placed it in a location that won’t be visible from the highway, JRI’s attorney Benjamin Losordo said at a meeting of the regional commission on Tuesday.
But Eugene and Polly Theroux, who own 75 acres in the area known as Ox Pasture, appealed the local committee’s approval to the regional board. Their attorney Brian Wall argued that the building, which is “institutional” in appearance, was still too big and inappropriate for the rural, historic neighborhood.
The Therouxs are interested in preserving the “living history” of the ox pasture that was used by settlers.
“Hay was put on carts and taken out of ox pasture on Ox Pasture Lane,” Wall said at the hearing. “It hasn’t been changed in 300 years and the Therouxs are seeking to preserve that.”
Losordo and the local committee’s Chairman William Collins said the new proposal addresses all the concerns that led to the project initially being rejected.
“We found that this was a much better proposal and an example of how the Old King’s Highway Act works,” Collins said.
Stephen Jones, who lives directly across from the proposed school at 206 Route 6A, said that he supports the Therouxs’ efforts. He believes the school is just a “beachhead” for JRI to build on and turn the area into an institution similar to the Riverview School, Jones said.
“If this proposal goes through, 6A, the Old Kings Highway will be turned into a ‘Handicapped Way,'” Jones said, calling the school an “awakening for drug addicts and alcoholics.”
Jones said that while he is “against guns,” he is considering acquiring one in order to prevent the teenage students from “abusing” his property.
“There will be be teenagers running off into the woods to have sex. I taught at schools where this happened,” he said. “It’s a real problem.”
Losordo pointed to Jones’ comments to reinforce his belief that the residents’ real issue with the school was not its size, but its use. The use of the building was not something the committee was there to judge, he said.
Wall rejected the claim that his clients were focused on the building’s use, saying Polly Theroux is in the education field and teaches special education students.
The regional commission upheld the local committee’s January decision. All of the commission members agreed, except Collins, who abstained from the vote.
The Therouxs have 20 days to appeal the decision in Barnstable District Court.
— Follow Haven Orecchio-Egresitz on Twitter:@HavenCCT.