Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Stockbridge Saga - Part 4A

(This is a follow up to a series of posts I wrote over a year ago about my friend Jeff and his battles with the Town of Stockbridge, MA, over his garage. The posts were titled "The Stockbridge Saga" and broken down into 3 parts... Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.)

I want to preface this by saying that I'm not a Libertarian. Nor am I some sort of anti-government nut-job, living in a shack in the woods with matted hair and an unkempt beard, surviving on rodent meat and berries. (Although I do need a haircut and I have been known not to shave for 3 or 4 days. Hmmm...) I actually believe that zoning laws - when applied properly - are a good thing.

I've even stood in front of a Zoning Board as a complainant. Back in 2007 a non-profit organization bought several buildings in the town my business was located in - including the building my business was located in - and were going to turn them into low-income housing. That wasn't a problem as they were going to keep my area commercial. The problem was parking. Massachusetts has a law that says apartment buildings must have two parking spaces per apartment. This non-profit was building 18 apartments. They should have had to provide 36 parking spaces. Their plans called for none. That would be a disaster for businesses, as the town had extremely limited amounts of public parking to begin with. They applied for a zoning variance. I fought them. I lost. - The irony of all this is that the woman who was in charge of this project - and whom I had never met until the zoning board hearing - turned out to be a car geek. Not an "Oh, I like cars" car geek, but a big time, "I know my stuff" car geek. We are now good friends. She had never ridden in a Ferrari, so I thought it would be cool to get her a ride in one. I called Jeff and asked him if he would take her for a ride in his. As a testament to Jeff, even though he didn't know this person, he took her out for a drive. Everyone was happy. (Well, almost everyone. I had to stay back at Jeff's house while they went for the ride as the Ferrari only seats two.)

After his loss at the first ZBA hearing, Jeff hired an attorney and took the matter to court.

In Massachusetts - and maybe in other states, I have no idea - matters like this are taken to "Land Court". I don't believe there is anything more boring than Land Court. Zoning is not exciting law. Land Court also moves incredibly slowly. Lizzie Borden would still be awaiting trial if criminal courts moved as slowly as Land Court.

All the downtime between the filing of the paperwork and the actual trial gave the town some time to rethink their position. They sent a settlement offer to Jeff's attorney. It was rejected and a counter-offer was sent to the town. After a few months of paperwork being sent back and forth an agreement was reached that was deemed fair by both Jeff and the Town of Stockbridge.

The hitch was the agreement had to go back in front of the ZBA - the same folks that ruled against Jeff in the first place - before it could be "official" (or almost official).

Another public hearing needed to be held and it was scheduled for June 30.

The hearing was scheduled to start at 7PM. I got to the Stockbridge Town Hall about an hour early. James Taylor was playing a sold out show Tanglewood that night, so I left early, just in case I ran into traffic. I didn't. I sat in the parking lot for awhile trying to check my e-mail and make a few phone calls, but the cell reception was terrible. Instead, I walked around Stockbridge for awhile - I saw some incredible cars, including a drop-dead gorgeous Aston Martin DB9 Volante - and then went into the Town Hall. Except for one member of the ZBA - the only one who sided with Jeff at the first hearing - I was the only one in the room. We exchanged pleasantries and talked a bit about that night's James Taylor concert.

Slowly but surely people started to wander in - ZBA (Zoning Board of Appeals) members, Jeff's attorney, the town's attorney and a few of Jeff's neighbors...

Tomorrow - The hearing and the outcome.

*Picture credit - Jeff's garage was featured in Hemmings Motor News in November, 2010. The top picture was taken from that article. You can find the entire article here.


Anonymous said...

That garage is nicer than most of the houses in my neighborhood!

Mike P said...

This whole saga has been unbelievable. We see similiar situations around here, but with HOA's, Home Owners Associations. When my neighborhood was developed, from land that just a few years earlier had been farm fields, the developer suggested a HOA. Myself, and a couple of others kindly said thanks, but no thanks. And no one else persued it. Has it turned our neighborhood into a wild west town? No. Are there things that would drive HOA Nazis up in Cary insane? Yep. A couple of boats in driveways or backyards. My '65 T-Bird beside the garage, with no tags, waiting its turn at my attention. The '85 XJ6 with the blown head gasket, sits in the garage. Projects. That's why I moved to the country in the first place. A sense of freedom, that's obviously not acceptable to the folks in Stockbridge.

John said...

Well it gets better...... Sorta....

My favorite quotes from these people are

"We know he has wrecks towed there all the time."

I mean,,, look at the place.

They launched the complaint because it impacted them in some way.

"How do we know what he's doing since we can't see or hear what he's doing in his garage."

How do people get to this point in their lives? How do they arrive at this rational?

chas said...

Here is how I solved it with my persnickity neighbors. I walked right up and knocked on their door after they called the police on me for too many unregistered cars in the yard. I said that we could solve this like neighbors where they could ask me politely to register, move, or clean up my cars, or we could resolve this adversarially by their actions in complaining to the town and police. I warned them that if they preferred the second scenerio, that there was no law to prevent me from taking my rustiest piece of shit wreck of a project, and loading it onto a legally registered car trailer, and parking the trailer legally on the public street in front of their house. That kept them quiet for a while.