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Thetford Wall Fines Hit $26,000

Thursday, July 30, 2015
Thetford — Town officials say they are headed toward mediation with former gubernatorial candidate and longtime Thetford resident Ruth Dwyer, who has racked up more than $26,000 in unpaid fines for refusing to remove a 60-foot-by-24-foot partition in her yard that the town says violates zoning rules.

Dwyer, a former Republican state legislator who challenged then-Gov. Howard Dean in 1998 and 2000, built the structure in her front yard in November to block the view of her new neighbors’ house across Sawnee Bean Road.

The green-screened wall was found to be out of compliance with Thetford zoning laws and the town denied her after-the-fact application to obtain a permit, citing an “undue adverse effect on the character of the area.” Because she didn’t take it down, Thetford h as been assessing $200-a-day fines since March 19.

Selectboard Chairman Stuart Rogers said in an email last week that the town’s case against Dwyer is “now within the legal process, (and) part of that process required by the Vermont Environmental Court is an attempt at mediation, which is in the process of being scheduled for a time that works with all involved.”

Zoning administrator Mary Ellen Parkman said in an email on Tuesday that a “tentative date being thrown around” for mediation is Sept. 8.

Phone messages left for Dwyer on Tuesday and Wednesday were not returned.

Rogers declined further comment, citing the legal case. When asked whether a result of mediation could be for the fines to be absolved, Parkman said it’s a possibility.

“If the wall comes down maybe,” she said in an email Wednesday.

Mediation is a process whereby parties in a dispute try to resolve their differences and avoid a trial.

During her political career, Dwyer — who was born in Ohio and received schooling in upstate New York before moving to Vermont in her youth, according to a 1997 Vermont legislative manual — often advocated for property owners’ rights and was prominent in the “Take Back Vermont” movement.

In past interviews with the Valley News, Dwyer said she had a contractor erect the structure to block the view of the 1,500-square-foot house. She lamented the family’s lawn-mowing and said she could see light emanating from their TV, calling it “sacrilege” to take a hay field and turn it into a lawn and “giant septic system.”

In an interview with WPTZ in June, Dwyer said the new activity across the street, such as kids playing basketball, upset her farm animals.

Dwyer has long said that the structure was a temporary fix until young cedar trees she planted in front of it could grow to a sufficient size.

“It’s a quality of life issue,” she told the Valley News in December. “I frankly didn’t think it would bother anybody.”

In a letter to the town, she questioned the appropriateness of the $200-a-day fine, saying it should be reserved for the most egregious infractions and accusing the town of enacting it to target her specifically.

Rogers and Parkman have previously denied Dwyer’s accusations, saying that Dwyer’s alleged violation is the first of its kind since a new policy was passed, and that the policy pointed to a document outlining fines in such cases. Because town officials realized during the Dwyer case that such a document didn’t exist, they approved one.

Homeowner Patrick Perry and his wife built the house after buying a vacant 2-acre hay field in 2013. Perry, a Coos County native, said in December that the barrier “certainly comes across as unfriendly.”

Patrick Perry’s attorney, Norman Blais, did not return a message left for him on Wednesday.

Maggie Cassidy can be reached at mcassidy@vnews.com or 603-727-3220.

CORRECTION

Norman Blais is Patrick Perry’s attorney. An earlier version of this story omitted Blais’s first name and role in the case.




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