By Keith Morrill, Staff writer
Questions about lot 128 on Flat Rock Road linger even after the town settled a legal dispute involving the camp last month just prior to a court-ordered mediation. The settlement compensated leaseholder Paul Arthaud to the tune of $30,000, which allowed him to walk away from his lease, restored control of the lease and ownership of the camp to the town, and saved both parties any further legal fees. It seemed the ideal end to the yearlong dispute.
Yet not everyone is content with the outcome. Arthaud’s neighbors, Valerie and JC Biebuyck, were to take part in that court-ordered mediation and are now feeling stilted, having been deprived of an outlet for what they say is a backlog of unaddressed grievances.
The focus of their displeasure is a one-room building on lot 128 that once served as a guest house for the camp on lot 127. The building has stood abandoned for years, falling into disrepair and spoiling the aesthetics of Thompson’s Point for both residents and the many who enjoying walking the three-mile road loop on the point.
Furthermore, the cabin presents an ever-increasing hazard, drawing animals who take up residency both beneath and inside the building. In October of last year, the Biebuycks called 911, claiming the gas tank on the premises had sprung a leak. Records at Charlotte Fire and Rescue show that no gas leak was found of the property.
The Biebuycks are not alone in their complaints. In August of 2015, 17 Thompson’s Point leaseholders, including the Biebuycks, sent a letter to the town requesting action to either raze or renovate the structure. The letter stated that the structure was in violation of the lease agreement, which states that all point lessees must “maintain the leased premises or any improvements constructed on it in a safe, orderly, and habitable condition.”
“The town isn’t enforcing the lease that it has,” JC Biebuyck said.
The town maintains it had no reason to act because, at the time, Arthaud was already selling the lot to a couple interested in removing the structure and replacing it with a new camp. The Biebuycks were vocal in opposing the project house, as it clearly stood in violation of Charlotte zoning and land-use regulations. Valerie Biebuyck exhaustively researched the subject in order to present the town with data and regulations showing just that, and in the process discovered that the Selectboard had erred in 2014 when it allowed Arthaud to divide his original lease in two, allowing him to sell both of his lots, 127 and 128, separately.
The Selectboard thanked Valerie for her work, but what the Biebuycks really wanted was a solution to the ongoing problem. When Arthaud appealed the decision to Vermont’s environmental court, casting both the lease and the lot into legal limbo, Town Administrator Dean Bloch said the town could take no action. The court ordered the town, Arthaud and the neighbors to mediation. “We were initially worried about the mediation,” JC Biebuyck said. “But the judge said to us … your concerns will specifically be addressed.”
It seemed the Biebuycks would finally have a chance to get the audience—and action—they’d been seeking. “So that was our hope, that it would just be a more constructive dialogue than all of the attorneys going back and forth,” Biebuyck said.
But when Arthaud and the town settled just days before the mediation was scheduled to begin, the Biebuycks felt cheated.
“What’s it going to take?” Biebuyck asked. He remains frustrated over what he says is the town’s continued inaction. “It feels like they can’t make a decision—a good decision—because the mediation would have solved everything. We’re reasonable people. All we want is safety and some aesthetics next to us, which we haven’t had for 20 years, and we just want it safe for everyone. And I don’t think it’s unreasonable for the neighbors to want that.”
The Biebuycks have since filed a complaint with the state and are exploring options for filing a larger complaint. “After all, the town is a landlord,” Biebuyck said. “There are plenty of laws that protect as us tenants.”
Bloch said the town is looking to move forward with lot 128, though it remains unclear in what direction. “I believe a Selectboard member will be reaching out to them in the near future,” Bloch said. “We are going to wait until [the case] actually settles. Even though it’s been settled verbally, documents haven’t been signed by the judge yet, so we’re going to wait till that happens.”