TO THE EDITOR:
I read with great interest the recent letter alleging a NIMBY attack on Lachat Town Farm and lecturing readers on negotiations tactics and principles. I would like to present an alternative viewpoint on the matter and suggest that the matter is one that all Westonites would be wise to monitor closely.
While I understand that there are passionate supporters of Lachat, a place that has gained a special place in the heart of many Westonites, I am also supportive of residents who feel they are directly impacted by activities that have or may cause disruption to their lives, impact the enjoyment of the homes and or adversely affect the value of their properties. We all should be sympathetic when residents - and particularly neighbors to proposed projects who will bear the brunt of any disruption - raise legitimate issues about location, usage, parking, noise, expansion and the like. Given that the Town has essentially unchecked powers on municipal projects and the often negative attitude stakeholders hold against our fellow residents who raise objections to so-called "amenity" projects, I am not surprised that in this case a number of concerned neighbors of the Town Farm property felt compelled to resort to legal avenues. I watched a Board of Selectman meeting where two residents tried to engage the Selectmen and others in a conversation about their concerns. My impression was that their concerns fell mostly on deaf ears, with Selectman Grozinger the one person who gave them and their concerns the kind of respect that any of us would hope we would get should we be in their position.
I particularly object when the term NIMBY is used to criticize people who have legitimate concerns. It's just too easy and often inaccurate to distill a complex matter down to a generalization or catchy phrase. Yes, it is the neighbors most directory affected who often raise the initial concerns; but who is better qualified and more aware of potential issues than someone who lives nearby. I saw this term used against people who initially raised concerns about the Town's proposed destruction of a forest abutting wetlands, known as the Moore Property, to build a dog park. At one point I was told that only twenty or so people in Town, specifically neighbors to the Moore Property, were concerned about the proposed usage. Ultimately, when the proposal was put to a non-binding vote, nearly half of the 1,700 people from all over Weston who voted, voted against the concept of a dog part on the property. That clearly disabused the notion that this was purely a NIMBY matter. We should all take a lesson from that result.
While you are considering where you stand on the use of and proposed expansion of Lachat, keep in mind that in many ways the people who have hired a lawyer and filed legal proceeding against the Town are fighting a fight that many more of us may be faced with in the coming months and years. Future phases of the proposed sidewalk project will certainly raise objections by some property owners. The planned Weston Downtown district abuts several residential properties. Think you have rights and protections in these matters; I say guess again. We live in a Town that is among only a handful of Connecticut towns that has exempted itself from all zoning regulations for municipal projects. Enacted by a vote of the Board of Selectman during a closed March 1971 Executive Session, the Town has used this exemption in the past, and it will surely feel free to do so again. Let me give you an example from the Moore Property matter, where the Town regulation on the books at the time of consideration by P&Z stated that an entrance to a municipal facility could only be placed on a "major" or "collector" road, roads designed to accommodate higher levels of traffic. Nevertheless, P&Z dismissed concerns that the entrance on Lords Highway East, which was and is designated a smaller "local" road, was inappropriate. P&Z cited the Town's exemption in spite of black and white text in the regulations that couldn't have been clearer. And to put an exclamation point on the matter, months later the P&Z Board voted to remove the entire relevant section from the regulation so it could never be cited by a concerned resident for any future project. Paraphrasing what one board member said at the time, Weston resident's rights shouldn't be determined by the goodwill of whoever happens to be in power at the time. But that is exactly where we find ourselves now.
Finally, here's my perspective of Lachat. I've been a Weston resident for almost 25 years and recall the initial discussions about the use of the property, restoration of the history of the place and a place to learn about and respect the farming history of Weston. Lachat has been wildly popular and an asset. But it does seem that yoga, Japanese flower arranging, use as event space and now constructing the proposed new facility to hold cooking demonstrations and other activities may have, in my opinion, gone off track from what was envisioned. That's my opinion and I hope you respect it. But I can live with other outcomes as long as there is open discussion, respectful debate and respect for homeowner property rights. I would also suggest it is long past time for the Town's 50 year old exemption from zoning regulations to be reconsidered through a Town Meeting and vote, to bring it in line with the vast majority of Connecticut municipalities.
— Bob Casson
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