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Harbor Hill (Building 7) | Formerly Harbor Hill at Provincetown Condominium. To more than 1,000 purchasers, the four-building Harbor Hill timeshare complex must have sounded like a dream; a chance to own a stake in Provincetown that was small enough to be affordable but big enough to serve as a vacation home in perpetuity. Their dream, however, turned into a nightmare when the office manager embezzled so much money that the timeshare was driven into bankruptcy in 2016. Then, out of the collapse of Harbor Hill came an opportunity for the Town of Provincetown to get into the business of renting apartments to full-time residents with relatively modest incomes. This process has been complicated, litigated, drawn out, more expensive than anticipated, and generally contentious. At day’s end, the Provincetown Year-Round Market-Rate Rental Housing Trust expects to offer 28 desperately needed units. But patience has been needed.
“Please consider kindly that we are all working to make this project a success,” Nathan Butera, the chairman of the trust, said in September 2020, when the unfinished effort was in its fourth year, “not only for its own sake, but for the future of housing in Provincetown and for the future of Provincetown itself.”1
The seeds for Harbor Hill at Provincetown were planted in 1990, when Marilyn S. Wood, acting as the Smaling Realty Trust, sold four abutting lots at the intersection of Bradford Street Extension and Harbor Hill Road for $1.5 million to Eastwood Property Investors Limited Partnership, whose sole trustee was James J. Wood of Orleans. He created the condominium in 1991. In 1995, 31 Bradford Street Extension was built on Lot No. 7, with nine units; 3 Harbor Hill Road was built on Lot 6, with six units; and 8 Harbor Hill Road was built, with five units. The following year, 4 Harbor Hill Road was constructed on Lot No. 5, with six units.
Harbor Hill’s promotional material stated there were 30 “suites” with one or two bedrooms, accommodating up to four or six people. Every unit was advertised as having a full kitchen, fireplace, washer and dryer, free wi-fi access, Comcast cable, Insignia flat-screen television, Sony Blu-ray DVD player, coffee maker and teapot, hair dryer, iron and ironing board, vacuum, and telephone.
“Luxuriate in our Softub hydrotherapy hot tubs, lounge on a choice of decks and soak up the sun, or fire up one of the Weber grills for a cookout with friends and family,” the promotional materials said. “When cooler weather moves in and the snow begins to fly, curl up by a glowing fireplace with your journal, good book or movie, and your favorite beverage.”
“Whether you’re planning a weeklong holiday, family gathering, work retreat, or a romantic weekend getaway, Harbor Hill at Provincetown is the perfect choice.”
Well, not quite perfect. Donna Zoppi of Eastham was charged with having upended the condo’s finances.
“Between 2008 and 2015, Zoppi, who was the office manager at Harbor Hill, embezzled more than $1.8 million by writing herself checks from the Harbor Hill account, using the Harbor Hill debit card for personal expenditures, making A.T.M. withdrawals from the Harbor Hill account, and wiring money directly from the Harbor Hill account to her personal account,” the Massachusetts attorney general’s office said on 10 October 2019, after Zoppi pleaded guilty to one count of larceny over $250.2
“During the same timeframe, Zoppi took lavish vacations, purchased a horse for her stepdaughter, bought club level seats at Gillette Stadium, and attended the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York City,” Attorney General Maura Healey said in the statement.
“As a result of Zoppi’s actions, Harbor Hill declared bankruptcy in 2016.”
Disaster for the Harbor Hill timeshare owners seemed like a godsend to Town officials wrestling with how to increase the stock of affordable housing. In 2015, Senator Daniel A. Wolf of the Cape and Islands and Rep. Sarah K. Peake of the Fourth Barnstable District introduced legislation in the General Court to create the Provincetown Year-Round Market-Rate Rental Housing Trust. It was signed into law on 3 November 2016 by Gov. Charlie Baker as Chapter 305 of the Acts of 2016.3
“The trust is established to create and preserve year-round rental units in the Town of Provincetown including, but not limited to, market-rate units, for the benefit of the residents of the town,” the law stated. To that end, the law established a fund, “separate and apart from the general fund of the Town,” to be managed by a board of five trustees appointed by the Select Board. Chapter 305 also directed the trust to rent the units under its control to current residents of Provincetown, municipal employees, employees of local businesses, and houses with children attending school in Provincetown.
A month after the trust was created, Town Manager David Panagore and Raphael Richer, chairman of the trust, announced their interest in acquiring the bankrupt Harbor Hill for use as publicly-owned housing. They had to act quickly. They had only two months to ready a bid for the Harbor Hill property in Bankruptcy Court.4
1 “Provincetown Voters Approve New Budget, Ban Sales of Plastic Water Bottles,” by Ethan Genter, Provincetown Banner, 23 September 2020.
2 “Eastham Woman Pleads Guilty, Sentenced to State Prison for Stealing $1.8 Million from Provincetown Timeshare,” Office of Attorney General Maura Healey, 10 October 2019.
3 “An Act Establishing a Provincetown Year-round Market Rate Rental Housing Trust Fund in the Town of Provincetown,” Chapter 305 of the Acts of 2016.
4 “Provincetown Gets Ready to Bid on Harbor Hill,” by Katy Ward, Provincetown Banner, 15 January 2017.