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Nathalie Ferrier looked toward where a mansion is planned in Truro. In the distance is artist Edward Hopper’s former home.
Nathalie Ferrier looked toward where a mansion is planned in Truro. In the distance is artist Edward Hopper’s former home. (Julia Cumes for the Boston Globe)
Threatened perspective

Mansion may obscure what Hopper painted

TRURO -- What Edward Hopper cherished most about his home in Truro were the silence and the view. From his window looking north over the windswept heathlands and Cape Cod Bay, the American artist found inspiration for some of the most celebrated paintings of the 20th century.

Now, from that very same window, people sit and worry that it may all be coming to an end. In May, a couple spent $6.75 million to buy the neighboring property. They are planning to build a 6,500-square-foot mansion, complete with reflecting pools and a wine cellar, on nine acres in the middle of what locals call the Hopper landscape. And the proposal has incited sometimes loud debate over the once silent landscape of South Truro.

This is no battle between the haves and the have-nots, but rather a battle between the have and the have-mores. The neighbors do not fault Donald and Andrea Kline for spending millions to live in the Hopper landscape. After all, they themselves own expensive chunks of land nearby. The neighbors fault the Klines instead for what they believe is violating the code of the Cape, proposing what they call a monstrosity and a trophy house when a smaller house or the existing 191-year-old home already on the Klines' property would do just fine.

"It can only be a monument to themselves," said neighbor Joan Holt. "It says it's not about the neighborhood and what it's always been and what it's always meant to be. All it says is, 'Look at the money I have.' "

Donald Kline, a wealthy man with a home in Boca Raton, Fla., and a history of land battles in Truro, declined to comment for this story. But from the plans he has filed with the town of Truro, one thing is clear: He wants a view like the one Hopper once had. The plans call for his house to be built at the highest point of the property. And neighbors will have a hard time stopping it, said Nick Brown, chairman of the Truro Planning Board.

"We can try to prevail upon civic mindedness," said Brown. But he sees little way to prevent Kline from building his new home -- furor or not. "By rights," Brown said, "he could build more than 36 bedrooms. I'm not suggesting he is. I'm just saying that's how far he could take this."

Hopper, an American realist whose work is on display through Sunday at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, first visited Truro in 1930 and fell in love with the place, building his own house there in 1933. "He responded immediately to the austerity of the landscape," said Carol Troyen, the curator of the MFA's Hopper exhibition. "And he kept going summer after summer."

Hopper preferred Truro to the busier Provincetown. He was a solitary man at home amid the sand, the hearty low-lying shrubs, and salt-licked hills. When he and his wife Josephine came to the Cape from New York, he was here to work. And by Troyen's estimation, at least a third of his work was painted in or of Truro between 1930 and his death in 1967.

Residents of Truro, population 2,152, take pride in that. Anton Schiffenhaus, whose family inherited the Hopper home when Josephine, a friend of his mother's, died in 1968, said it is not uncommon to find tourists wandering onto the property to admire the view that once inspired Hopper. Even today, the roughly 30-acre swath stretching north remains mostly untouched, with only the tops of a few new homes visible to visitors.

"It is a view for the ages," said Schiffenhaus recently, peering out the large window looking north from the room where Hopper's paint-spattered easel still stands. "When I look out here, I think about how this place used to be. If you don't look back and you don't look here," he explained, pointing to the south and the east, "it's pretty much the way it's always been."

But now, with the Klines, who have a history of controversy in Truro, that may be changing. In 1997, the couple bought 21 acres in the Shearwater subdivision up the coast in north Truro and proceeded to get into a legal battle over what they could build there.

The Klines, according to court documents, wanted to truck in 10,225 cubic yards of landfill to raise their waterfront land and then build an 8,000-square-foot home on the property. But the Shearwater homeowner's association fought the plan, saying the Klines' proposal violated the association's covenants for height and size.

It was not a pleasant debate. At one point, according to court documents, Donald Kline called one association leader, Murray Sackman, and made a "testy threat . . . to break the covenants, the Association, Sackman, and anyone else who got in his way."

But that did not happen. In 2001, Barnstable Superior Court Judge Gary A. Nickerson ruled in the association's favor -- a decision held up on appeal in 2005. The Klines began building a smaller home, currently under construction. Then, this April, they put that house on the market for $8.5 million, bought the land near the Hopper house in May, and soon began worrying residents with the plans for their new project.

"It's going to be metal," a neighbor, Nathalie Ferrier, asserted recently. "It's going to be two stories high and I guess people will be able to see it all the way from Provincetown. Because, I guess it's going to shine. . . . His goal is to make some kind of really ugly big thing."

Such complaints are common among neighbors these days. But Chuck Steinman, chairman of the Truro Historical Commission who has seen the Klines' renderings of the home, said their architecture is not the problem. It will be a "clean, flat-roofed house," with an understated mid-century modern style to it, Steinman said.

The problem, according to Steinman and others, is the location. Built on the ridge just north of the Hopper house, the Klines' home will dwarf everything near it, the neighbors say. At the very least, they are hoping to persuade the Klines to build on a lower spot.

But Brown said there is little the town can do to force the Klines to listen. Once the state determines what the Klines need to do to mitigate the environmental impact of the project -- a ruling expected by Aug. 24 -- the Klines can move forward, Brown said, and get their permits.

And no matter where they build, John Marksbury said, there may be no saving the Hopper landscape. Marksbury, the chairman of the Truro Conservation Trust, which owns about 10 acres in the Hopper landscape, said having even just one house in the landscape could change everything.

"The trust has long maintained that we want to do everything we can to save the Hopper landscape," he said. "However, it doesn't make sense to try to save what we call the Hopper landscape if any piece of it is to go away and be developed. It's kind of an all or nothing position in my point of view."

It is an opinion that Anton Schiffenhaus can appreciate. After almost 40 years of preserving the Hopper house, he said his family does not want to sell it now. But Schiffenhaus acknowledges they will have to consider all of their options, especially if the Hopper landscape becomes just another summertime playground for those rich enough to afford it.

"If nobody's interested in saving that," he said, gesturing to the land out Hopper's window, "why should we bother saving this?"

Keith O'Brien can be reached at kobrien@globe.com

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