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Editorial: Summer of Discontent; Civil Unrest, Upper Valley Style

It has been a long hot summer here on the mean streets of the Upper Valley, so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that civil unrest has broken out on both sides of the Connecticut River.

As reported in Thursday’s Valley News, the heart of West Lebanon was the scene of one protest, where developer David Clem, frustrated by his inability to obtain from the city a building permit for the renovation of the old West Lebanon Library, is venting his intense dissatisfaction by ... letting the grass grow.

“I have made the decision to close down the site and stop mowing the grass as my citizen protest for a process that is unfriendly to the taxpayer, unnecessary, and burdensome for a community that allegedly wants economic revitalization, increased tax revenues, and historic preservation,” Clem wrote in a email to a West Lebanon resident who reasonably enough wondered what the heck was going on with the grass. “When I am granted a building permit, I will cut the grass, but not before. The city does not seem to care.” For their part, city planning officials say they do indeed care; it’s just that his plans don’t conform with the state building code.

Clem is known for being keenly attuned to community sensibility in planning his various projects, and we can’t help but think that he has again displayed this sure grasp in mounting his protest: In a region that has wholeheartedly embraced slow food and slow medicine, what could be more appealing than slow protest? Indeed, it’s like watching the grass grow. And grow. And grow.

If Clem is playing softball with the city here, it should be noted that it took him nearly four years to navigate Lebanon’s permitting process to win approval of the big River Park office, laboratory and retail development just down the street. Maybe waiting eight months for a building permit for the old library was the last straw.

It might be, though, that the means Clem has chosen to express his displeasure is a little too subtle. A 16-year-old hanging out across the street was asked by staff writer Ben Conarck what he thought of the protest. “I think it’s a little bit weird,” he replied, apparently not realizing that it is the duty of youth to be rebellious.

Meanwhile, in Norwich, about 20 gun control advocates gathered Thursday to confront Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin as he arrived at the upscale King Arthur Flour bakery and cafe where Vermont Public Radio’s basement-level studio was being dedicated to a family that has long supported VPR.

Shumlin, of course, is on record as favoring a “50-state” solution to gun regulation, which members of Gun Sense Vermont correctly surmise won’t happen because that would require congressional action at a time when both the House and the Senate are in a state of permanent recess. Thus they gathered in the building’s entrance way shortly before the governor arrived, and then decided to ... go back outside to avoid disruption.

As staff writer Maggie Cassidy reported, when the governor pulled up and got out of his black SUV, one unfailingly polite protester ventured that, “We would like you to do something about Vermont gun laws.”

“How do you do?” the governor replied, deftly ducking that high hard one.