By Gareth Henderson
Proponents of the Grange Hill affordable housing project had something to celebrate when a Windsor Superior Court judge ruled in their favor Oct. 6 on a case concerning water rights.
However, the attorney representing the other side said his clients would appeal the case to the Vermont Supreme Court.
The 36-unit Grange Hill project, at the former Rock Church site, was proposed about five years ago and has been tied up in meetings and court hearings ever since. There have been several appeals over that time, from neighbors who strongly oppose the project. Opponents say the new housing would overcrowd their neighborhood and exacerbate seasonal flooding of Vondell Brook. Those in favor of the project say there would be minimal impact on the brook and that the project would be well managed. They have often noted that the area was zoned for well over 36 units.
Woodstock Community Trust President Patsy Highberg was pleased with the recent decision at Superior Court.
“It’s very nice to have a piece of good news in our continuing efforts to try to bring affordable housing to the town of Woodstock,” Highberg said.
In the Superior Court case, the neighbors’ major argument was that the Grange Hill proponents could not relocate water lines without the neighbors’ permission, due to an existing easement.
In the end, Judge William Cohen ruled that the project would not interfere with the neighbors’ ability to convey water from the main water line on Route 4.
“Plaintiffs do not have an easement in the surface rights, and their interests in conveying water do not depend upon maintaining the physical location of the water lines in their present locations,” Cohen wrote. “As a result, it does not make sense to prevent defendants from changing the location of the underground pipes if doing so would have no bearing on the amount of water conveyed or otherwise impair plaintiffs’ ability to maintain the water line.”
The neighbors’ attorney, Kaveh Shahi, asserted that case law clearly supports their case.
“I think the law is very clear on this issue, and it was reaffirmed in 2006 by the Vermont Supreme Court,” Shahi said. “It basically says that if you have a right of way or easement, that the person whose property you have that right of way on, should get your permission to change that somehow.”
In his Oct. 6 decision, Cohen also ruled that the opponents had no evidence “other than mere speculation and conjecture” to support their argument that the new water lines would be more difficult to maintain, because of their length or location near property boundaries.
Cohen also wrote that the opponents’ nuisance claim against the project was premature, as the project had not actually been built.
Several parts of the water rights case still remain to be resolved in Superior Court, so it’s unclear whether the opponents’ appeal on the Oct. 6 ruling would be allowed at this time.
By Gareth Henderson