Driving range fence at center of resident's appeal

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This story was updated at 8 p.m. on Friday to clarify that Kaye Manly went through the Dorset Field Club's general manager with her request to speak with then-president John Moser and inform the club's board of her concerns.

DORSET — The town Zoning Board of Adjustment will decide whether the Dorset Field Club can keep or must remove controversial height extensions to its driving range screen, which an abutting property owner says have diminished the value and enjoyment of her property.

At a hearing on the appeal Monday, before a packed house in the Dorset Town Hall meeting room, attorneys for both sides argued whether the work was properly permitted in 2016, when the Field Club first proposed screening as part of its lower campus improvement project, or if it should have been subject to additional permits before the extensions were added in 2017.

The screens were put in so that the Field Club could safely lengthen its driving range, club representatives told the board. The original height was about 65 feet; a year later, when that proved insufficient, the club raised the height to about 85 feet.

Kaye Manly, of 316 Church St., is seeking to overturn a town finding that the extensions did not require a new permit, and that she filed her appeal too late. She says the extensions now dominate the view from her home, obliterating a view of the mountains she had enhanced though landscaping, and that she never received notice that the fence would be raised..

According to assistant zoning administrator and town manager Rob Gaiotti, Manly's request came more than 18 months after the permit was issued and more than a year after the initial work was done. "Because the 15-day appeal period had already expired the Town was unable to meet this request per State statute," he told the Journal. (Gaiotti, Dorset's town manager, was appointed to the assistant post as the town zoning administrator; Dorset zoning administrator Tyler Yandow recused himself from the matter, since he worked on the lower campus plan for the Dorset Field Club.)

Field Club president Rocco Maggiotto and attorney Lisa Shelkrot of Burlington told the board that the club followed the rules and had the proper permits in place for the work, which they said was essential to promoting safety at the driving range. Maggiotto pointed out that the Field Club recently removed the two extensions closest to Manly's home, hoping the show of good faith would lead to a resolution.

The Field Club had never stipulated the height of the screen in its permit application, Shelkrot said, which meant that height was never set as a condition of the permit. Furthermore, she said, the town's zoning ordinance, unlike state law, does not define fencing as a structure which is subject to the ordinance.

But Manly contends the town's zoning bylaws make clear that any work done in the historic district requires permitting approval.

The two-hour hearing drew 30 people to Dorset Town Hall on Monday night — as many people as its meeting room can reasonably hold. Some spoke in favor of the club's position; others spoke for Manly and the hope that a resolution can be reached.

The board closed the hearing and met in deliberative session without reaching a decision on Monday night. A decision had not been announced as of press time Wednesday.

Manly is a Field Club member, and so are ZBA members Kevin O'Toole, John LaVecchia, Steve Jones, David Wilson, and Bill Bridges (Bridges did not participate Monday night). LaVecchia, the board chair, asked if those members should recuse themselves, but Manly's attorney, Allan Sullivan of Dorset, said he was confident that the board would fulfill its duties without showing favor. "We have no concerns," he said.

Sullivan of Dorset, told the board that the work should not have been completed without obtaining a separate permit first, under the conditions of the town zoning law.

Specifically, Sullivan pointed to bylaw 9.4.1: "A permit application must be obtained from the Zoning Administrator for any and all exterior changes, additions and deletions on any and all sites in the Design Areas." The Dorset Field Club, he said, lies within the Dorset Design District, meaning the extension should have been subject to separate review by the Dorset Design Review Board, the Planning Commission and the ZBA.

What's more, he said, the "popsicle stick" additions adding about 20 feet of height to a screen that was already 65 feet high are visually unappealing, and can be seen across the Field Club golf course from Route 30.

Sullivan treated the hearing as if it were a court proceeding, presenting photos as numbered exhibits and asking Manly to testify before the ZBA.

In 2013, Sullivan said, Manly undertook landscaping on her property to enhance the views of the mountains in the distance from her home, including the removal of some trees, at significant expense. She said that when the driving range poles first went up in 2016, she found them "objectionable" but was willing to live with it.

Manly was on the Dorset Planning Board when the Field Club's permit was approved in 2015.

It was only when she returned home from California in 2017 that Manly learned the poles had been extended, she said. She said she had never been notified of the work.

Manly said she went through the club's general manager in an attempt to speak with John Moser, the club president at the time, about her concerns, but that Moser never responded or informed the board of her requests. Later during public comment portion of the hearing, Moser said Manly "never contacted me" and that they "never spoke directly."

Maggiotto said the driving range expansion was an important part of the Field Club's lower campus project, which also added a golf simulator and fitness center, as new amenities intended to attract younger members.

"This was done with all necessary town and state approvals based on available guidance," he said, "There were no surprises here."


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