Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Stockbridge Saga, Pt. 2 - The Mother Hen and the Chickensh*t Town

Jeff closed his shop, but didn't lose his love of cars. The BMWs, Ferrari, Land Rovers and assorted Alfas he owns or has owned, will attest to that.

Jeff had a small garage area under his house. It wasn't especially roomy and had an 8' or less ceiling. It wasn't the best place to work on cars like the ones Jeff owns. Jeff decided that he was going to build a garage. The designs were drawn up, the plans were submitted, everything was approved and in 2005 the garage went up. It's an impressive structure. It is one of the classiest looking garages you'll ever see.

Jeff is a lot like a mother hen when it comes to cars. I talk with him 2 or 3 times a week. The conversation almost always ends or begins with "How's your car running?". If you're his friend, your car is his car. He wants to know that everything is OK with it. If I mention that it's making a noise or doing something odd, his response is always, "Bring it by, let's take a look at it." He'll throw it on his lift (yes, his garage has a lift), show me what the problem is and repair it if necessary. If it needs parts, Jeff will often be able to get them for me at cost. Sometimes I bring my own parts.

Most of my time at Jeff's house is spent discussing cars. Jeff's knowledge of cars is extraordinary. If I don't understand what he's telling me, he'll often put one of his cars (or my car, if appropriate) on the lift and show me the part he's talking about and how it works. Much of my knowledge of the inner-workings of cars comes from Jeff.

In the first post I called that the people who hung around Jeff's garage a "club". It's really not a club in the traditional sense of the word. There are no dues no meetings and many of the club members rarely, if ever, see each other. Jeff's garage is a just place where grown men (and the occasional woman) can occasionally get together and talk about their passion; cars. Sometimes we do a little work on our cars with the mother hen / professor, Jeff, watching over us. We always learn things. Best of all, it's a good time.

There are people who don't understand why Jeff does what he does. I understand. He enjoys it. "You take care of your friends" is his philosophy, my philosophy and, I would think, the philosophy of anyone with friends.

Apparently, some of the friendless people who don't understand this are his neighbors. They decided that since people occasionally stop by Jeff's house and put their car up on his lift, he must be running a commercial repair shop in a residential zoned area. They called the building inspector.

The building inspector issued a "Cease and Desist Order".

The pertinent part of the order states this:

“Given that the principal use of this address is residential, the use of the garage must be consistent with section of 4.8 of the zoning bylaws, This section states in part:

Subject to the limitations contained in this bylaw a related minor use, building or structure which is customarily incidental and subordinate to any lawful principal use shall be permitted on the same lot with the building to which it is an accessory, provided that it does not alter the character of the premises nor be detrimental to the neighborhood.

Accordingly, you are hereby ordered to cease and desist all work (including, without limitation, repair, restoration and refurbishment) on any automobile, other vehicle, or part thereof not owned by a resident of this address.”

(Interestingly, as far Jeff knows, the building inspector never actually came to look at anything. The order was based solely on the complaints of the neighbors.)

In other words, friends and family members not living at his address, can no longer use Jeff, his expertise, or his garage. Period.

Now, had this Cease and Desist Order said that Jeff had to stop running a commercial repair shop out of his house, it wouldn't have been a big deal. It would have been like telling me that I couldn't sell compact discs out of my house. It would be no big deal. I don't do that. But this Cease and Desist Order said that there was to be no work done on any cars, belonging to anybody other than Jeff, for any reason. Period. If I stopped by his house popped the hood on my car and asked Jeff to tell me if I installed some component correctly, he was in violation of the Cease and Desist Order. (I should mention here that Arlo Guthrie's opus, "Alice's Restaurant" took place in Stockbridge. Not much seems to have changed in 40 years.) As I've mentioned, I work in the music industry. I often give my friends a pile of promotional (free) CDs when they stop by my house. Apparently, if I lived in Stockbridge, doing so would mean I'm running a commercial music store out of my house.

Not too surprisingly, Jeff decided to appeal this in front of the Stockbridge Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA).

Tomorrow... The ZBA meeting.


longrooffan said...

Alright, Car Geek, you are just a tease!

Unknown said...

I used to do the same thing in my last neighborhood. I also fixed all my neighbors' cars, lawnmowers, weedeaters, etc. for either really cheap or for free, so luckily, I never had his problem.

That really sucks for him and is not fair. I think that he should start working on his own cars everyday, and work on them VERY LOUDLY!

I wish him luck.

Jon said...

Let's talk about Stockbridge.

Since the late 1800s, families of the industrialist "robber barons" escaped New York City by fleeing to the Berkshires mansions they called "cottages." How quaint...

Today Lee, Lenox, and Stockbridge form the Bermuda Triangle of Haughtiness in Western Massachusetts. Their stock in trade is tourism, culture and recreation.

The Interstate 90 turnpike funnels these worldly flatlanders into Western Massachusetts from upper state New York. Once here, they gasp at fall foliage and buy overpriced tickets to Jacob's Tanglepillow. Many have chosen to retire in the area. Absent this influx of sophistication, Stockbridge would resemble Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker's Heritage USA theme park.

Historically speaking, the majority of area towns were either constructed around a large factory, or mills located near rivers. Needless to say, this industrial base dried up over the years leaving these parts of Massachusetts struggling. North Adams lost the Sprague factory which employed thousands of residents. When Sprague closed, the city was lucky enough to find a tenant in the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, commonly referred to as MASS MoCA. Others were not as lucky. Pittsfield lost General Electric, and found nothing to replace it.

The official website for Stockbridge indicates that the town has changed from "...a quiet village of wealth and gracious living to a resort town..." I have always associated a "resort town" with palm trees and golf carts, so I am a bit lost on this one. In any case it appears to be a step up from a "village of wealth and gracious living" on the social ladder.

The website next references "the most famous Main Street in America as painted by Norman Rockwell. Today, in the face of rapid change and development, people look nostalgically to a way of life that is rapidly disappearing." END QUOTE.

While Stockbridge may espouse the Rockwellian aspects of the town, the rest of the quote reads like a Thomas Kinkade pitch. While this idealized vision of American small town life has been absent in the rest of the country for roughly two generations, it appears the powers that be can turn back the clock in Stockbridge to a more wholesome time when Sherriff Andy and Aunt Bee ran the show. This becomes a "quality of life" issue which many would argue carries a subtle racist and classist undertone. In other towns it would not be uncommon to see a couple of deer carcasses hanging from a tree in a neighbor's yard. I don't think you will see that in Stockbridge.

I think Rockwell would be well embarrassed. Maybe someone in the town forgot to mention Rockwell's "Four Freedoms" series of paintings.

Rockwell was an enormously talented artist who painted quite a variety of images. Many were more realistic and included racial minorities, immigrants, the poor and quite a diverse set of characters and lifestyles. His work represented his idealization of the best of what should have been, not what actually was.

He would invited Jeff's un-neighborly neighbors to move to Litchfield CT or Bedford New York.

I will follow this post with a separate post about zoning.