After listening to supporters of the pergola and supporters of the petition to move the pergola make their case for nearly an hour Wednesday evening, selectboard members looked over a list of options they could take in response to the petition asking them to move the pergola to an unspecified location. After a brief discussion, board members voted to “request that the town manager take no action regarding moving the pergola at this time.” The wording, a request directed toward the town manager, reflected an opinion by the town’s legal counsel that only the town manager had the authority to order the removal of the pergola without a Town Meeting mandate by voters.
For the second time in two weeks, the town hall meeting room was packed with spectators and people who wanted to weigh in on the pergola issue. Several speakers said they wanted to correct misinformation, some of which has been promulgated by supporters of the petition.
Development Review Board Chair Nicki Steel, who said she was not speaking on behalf of the DRB, said suggestions that the town was given preferential treatment regarding their zoning application for the pergola were unfounded. “I’ve heard that the DRB never should have approved the pergola, that the town was given a pass, or that the town hasn’t been held to the same standard as others,” she said. “Well I wonder how many of the people who are saying these things have bothered to check the facts.”
Steel said the DRB reviewed the park proposal, including the pergola design, under the town’s zoning and design control regulations. She urged people to read the decision.
“When the DRB makes a decision, they’re deciding on an applicant’s property rights, and we must be consistent,” she said. “We take the job seriously, and we try to do a complete and objective job.”
Michelle Doucette offered her perspective on concerns that the design of the pergola doesn’t reflect the architecture in the village. “When the Parmelee & Howe building was built, I wonder how many people thought it was a monstrosity of brick unlike the other buildings in town, which are all wooden,” she said. “We can have designs that are different in our town, and I think the pergola ties the old and new together in our town.”
Wilmington Beautification Committee Chair Lee Schindel offered a synopsis of the nearly yearlong public process of building the park. She said there were nearly 50 public meetings regarding the project, and that plans for the park were published in The Deerfield Valley News and put on display at the Mount Snow Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Deerfield Valley Farmers’ Day Fair. “We don’t believe there should be a revote on the pergola,” she said. “The time is long past for appeals and complaints.”
Schindel said the park has proven to be an asset to the town, and that dismantling the pergola would be “a folly.” She urged Wilmington residents to “Search your hearts, end this discord, and let us come together in harmony and work together to make this a better place to live and raise a family.”
Schindel’s frustration regarding the schism over the issue was echoed by other speakers. Wilmington resident Fran Alfieri said the pergola is a hit with visitors, second-home owners, and local residents. He called on those in the room to redirect their energy toward solving the problems the community faces. “There are so many people here with all this energy, if only we could take this energy and build our varsity girls a softball field, or buy the Sitzmark and make it a Wilmington recreation center,” he said. “Do something constructive instead of complaining about this beautiful pergola. When visitors see it, they love it. When I tell them it’s controversial, they can’t believe it. They say ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’”
Suzanne Waller said that she had her doubts about the pergola when it was first installed last fall. But since the park has been completed, she has grown to enjoy it. “I think it’s pretty,” she said. “And there are so many more things that people could get hot under the collar about. In the grand scheme, there are so many things that are more important.”
Pergola advocates urged the board to take no action, but supporters of the petition called for a ballot question on the matter. Marv Neuman, who presented the petition at the previous selectboard meeting, reminded board members that 300 people signed the petition. “I think this can be resolved with an Australian ballot come spring,” he said.
Skip Morrow said an Australian ballot was the only way to “know what we’re thinking in our hearts.” He said some people are afraid to speak out on the issue. “There were many people that didn’t sign the petition because they felt social pressure,” he said. “There were many people who wished us well and hoped we prevail, but felt that signing the petition could affect their social position in town.”
Kelly Kahler, an organizer of the petition drive, struck a conciliatory tone, praising those on both sides of the issue for their commitment to the town. But he also called for a referendum on the matter. “We don’t need to discuss it at Town Meeting,” he said. “It has already been discussed. Vote in the spring, when things have settled a bit, and people will all have their say. Then we can move on as a community.”
Board members declined to endorse a Town Meeting article or Australian ballot question Wednesday evening.