We owe the residents of Village Street our thanks too. Where is Village Street, you ask? And why do we owe them our thanks?
Village Street is an established residential neighborhood in East Dorset that parallels Route 7. Just take the first right on Mad Tom Road at the Wilson House and you're on Village Street. And the reason we owe those who live there our thanks is because many years ago our community destroyed their quiet neighborhood so we could have those safe roads described above.
Read on and you'll discover a shameful chapter in our community's history.
To understand what happened we need to go back to 1973. This was the year our town adopted its zoning bylaw. At the time Village Street was a small community of working-class families who raised their children, paid their taxes and supported their community. Their homes were not grand. But they valued them as much as those who lived on Church Street. Because whether you lived on Church Street or Village Street, your home is your home.
Across the street sat a small town garage that served the needs of East Dorset Village. It
The parcel the red shed sits on is a 1.5 acre sliver of land measuring approximately 1,150' long by 100' deep. It was acquired by the town in the 1940s. Much of the 1.5 acres was a vibrant woodland anchored by a towering (and healthy!) elm, mixed hardwoods and undergrowth replete with bird and animal life. Coursing through the property was a rivulet that came off Mad Tom and emptied into the nearby Batten Kill. It was home to frogs, salamanders and small fish that provided endless fascination for children throughout the community.
When the zoning bylaw was adopted in 1973 this parcel was zoned Village Residential (VR) and the red shed was grandfathered in. In its zoning bylaw the town reserved the right, as outlined in Section 3.7, to construct a municipal facility in a residential area provided that "safeguards are put in place to protect its neighbors and preserve the character of the neighborhood."
What happened next was only discovered this year. But it brings to light what can only be described as an egregious abuse of executive power and a breach of trust in our elected officials. It is a story about how our town destroyed this quiet neighborhood and forever changed the lives of those who live there.
It all started in 1976, when our selectboard decided our growing community had outstripped the capacity of its small town garages. The time had come to build an industrial-scale, municipal highway facility to serve all of Dorset. So the selectboard ordered the chainsaws onto Village Street and felled the towering elm and everything around it. Not a tree or shrub was left standing. And they did this without any record of the town ever applying for, or receiving, a zoning permit. This dishonorable act denied the Village Street residents their voice and the opportunity to preserve the character of their neighborhood.
The town then constructed the first of two imposing structures (the second was added in 2002) bereft of architectural merit and measuring a massive 120' in length, dwarfing every home on the street. Not a single tree, shrub or berm screened it from its residential neighbors, a requirement of the town's zoning bylaw. In a recent conversation with a Vermont zoning expert, he stated, "Every community in Vermont, with or without zoning, has the right to build a municipal highway facility in a residential neighborhood, but I know of no community that would do this." There is the Vermont way. And the Dorset way.
Which brings us to today.
The reason I became involved in this project is because my lady lives at ground zero opposite this structure. She is a hard-working woman who owns a small house that has been made charming by her efforts. Over the past several years I have watched and listened. And what I have noticed is that the more she questioned the activities opposite her home, the more the offending activities increase. Even during non-emergency times of the year.
There are quiet summer mornings when she is greeted at 6:15 by the roar of a bucket loader and dump trucks outside her bedroom window. When she complains to the town manager he responds, "We're trying to be a good neighbor." Would you consider someone mowing his lawn outside your bedroom window at 6:15 a "good neighbor?" Or would you choose different words?
Another example of the town's insensitivity unfolded over the past year. As you read the following, imagine this happening to you.
A new sand pile was created directly opposite her home significantly ramping-up the sound of the equipment used to service it. The dump trucks drive up, off-load sand and their tailgates slam down. Sometimes they don't close properly so sledge hammers are used to pound them in. A bucket loader scoops the sand and places it on the pile, It backs up 30-40 feet, the bucket slams to the ground and the driver speeds forward scraping as he goes. Like fingernails on a chalkboard. There are less intrusive places on the property to put the sand pile. She asks the town manager if he could discuss this with the road foreman. But nothing changes. Not ever. The town simply ignores the concerns of its neighbors.
At a recent selectboard meeting a member of the board reported driving by the facility and everything looked fine. Really? Were you saying it would be fine to have this noise and mess opposite your home? Or is it fine for Village Street?
I believe this lack of concern for working-class folks by our elected officials is a self-perpetuating culture that existed in 1976 and has not changed to this day. Shortly after Steve Jones' election to the board my lady contacted him to discuss her concerns. During their conversation Steve said he was learning the issues and was told by the board she had no right to complain because she knew the facility was there when she bought her house. This oft-used refrain is an implied moral authority used by members of the board, the town manager and town clerk. What these officials fail to understand is this issue has nothing to do with "when" someone moved onto Village Street. Whether it was 50 years ago or 50 minutes ago a citizen has a right to question those in authority if one's rights have been abridged.
And what is being questioned is the lack of oversight of the facility by the selectboard and town manager. Their indifference to their neighbors' concerns has significantly diminished the quality of life on the street.
Poor utilization of the site has also subjected the residents to unnecessarily excessive noise and aesthetic degradation. And decisions made by the road foreman reflect a gross disregard for the residents' right to quiet enjoyment of their homes. It is the responsibility of the selectboard to make certain the residents' concerns are validated and remedied.
Over 35 years have passed since the selectboard circumvented its own zoning bylaw and denied the Village Street residents their voice. It is time for our present selectboard to do what the 1976 selectboard did not and redress those issues outlined in Article 3.7 of the zoning bylaw- specifically those relating to noise, setbacks, courts, yards, loading facilities, landscaping and screening. The selectboard should make a good faith effort to work with its neighbors to resolve the issues that will return to them a sliver of the community they once had. Every fair-minded citizen of Dorset would demand the same.
Jim Kardas is a resident of East Dorset.