Dorset’s shameful little secret
As a resident of Dorset, I never gave much thought to the employees of our municipal highway department and their efforts to keep our roads safe. During the cold season they plow, sand and salt so our children can travel safely to and from school. During the warm season they grade them smooth, replace tired culverts and more. Every resident of Dorset owes them our thanks.
We owe the residents of Village Street our thanks, too. Where is Village Street? And why do we owe them our thanks? Because years ago our town destroyed this quiet neighborhood of working-class families so we could enjoy those safe roads described above.
To understand what happened we need to go back to 1976. It was then that our Select Board 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 Select Board ordered the chain-saws onto Village Street to slash and burn a vibrant woodland. 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 protect 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 feet 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. The value of the Village Street homes dropped 20 percent and have remained so to this day.
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 so.” There’s the Vermont way. And the Dorset way.
Life on Village Street is not the Vermont we envision. None of the folks who live there ever imagined an industrial site opposite their homes. The excessive noise of dump trucks and a bucket loader operating as early as 6:15 a.m. on a beautiful summer morning. The clanging and banging, the toxic fumes and the aesthetic blight have taken its toll.
The residents want only what every citizen of our town desires. The right to quiet enjoyment of their homes.
If you’re a resident of Dorset take the time to drive down Village Street and ask yourself the following two questions. “How would I like this mess opposite my home?” And “How would I feel if my town reached into my pocket and took 20 percent of my property’s value?” I know what your answers would be. The same as every resident of our community, including the five members of our Select Board. So why did our town do this?
I believe the answer is clear. There is a self-perpetuating culture among our elected officials that working-class folks deserve less consideration than others. This was evident in 1976. And it exists today. Can you ever imagine our town placing this facility on Church Street? The West Road? Or Dorset Hollow?
Our elected officials have not treated these folks well. They offer platitudes whenever a neighbor questions the activities outside their homes. “We’re trying to be good neighbors,” they say. But nothing ever changes. Not ever.
So what do the residents question? They question the Select Board’s lack of oversight of this facility that has diminished their quality of life. They question the poor utilization of the site that has subjected them to unnecessarily excessive noise and aesthetic degradation.
And they question the decisions made by the road foreman that reflect a gross disregard for their right to enjoy their homes. It is our Select Board’s responsibility to make certain the residents’ concerns are validated and remedied.
Over 35 years have passed since the Select Board circumvented our zoning bylaw and denied the Village Street residents their voice. It’s time for our present Select Board to do what their 1976 counterparts did not and redress those issues outlined in Article 3.7 of the zoning bylaw — specifically those relating to noise, setbacks, courts, yards, landscaping and screening.
The board 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.