Editorial: Playground Folly in Quechee; Misstep by Quechee Lakes

Misstep by Quechee Lakes

Saturday, May 28, 2016

We note that the Quechee Lakes Landowners Association has now taken ownership of playground equipment on the village Green from the town of Hartford, even as its ongoing wrangle with municipal officials over the proposed construction of a “pocket park” near the Quechee Covered Bridge drags on. This brilliant stroke appears part of a broader public relations strategy by the leadership of the landowners association to confirm the stereotype of its members as rich, arrogant interlopers who insist on getting their own way at any cost. This stereotype, of course, is grossly unfair to most of QLLA’s nearly 1,400 members; they must be puzzled why QLLA seems determined to perpetuate the fiction. 

As staff writer Matt Hongoltz-Hetling reported, QLLA notified the town last month that it was exercising its option to take control of the playground and equipment after a 15-year agreement for its use expired March 31. “QLLA now fully owns and controls access to the QLLA Green, playground and walking path, and will be posting rules soon,” board President David Duval told association members in April. Tad Nunez, director of the Hartford Parks and Recreation Department, confirmed to Hongoltz-Hetling that, “The benches, the playground, all the permanent features in the walking areas and the fitness station now belong to them.” 

Context is important here, of course. QLLA officials insist that the playground and the pocket park issues are unrelated (see the op-ed on page F2). But it’s also true that they are justifiably incensed by five years of dithering by town officials over what to do with a small but prominent parcel of ugly, flood-ravaged land at the foot of the covered bridge, in the heart of the village. QLLA is heavily invested in a proposal to build a pocket park there, which it contends will increase tourism and, in a chain reaction, prop up property values and spur home sales within the development. Maybe. In any case, the Selectboard last fall agreed to build a pocket park, at a cost of $378,000, but the project is now hung up awaiting confirmation that its design meets federal regulatory requirements. As Selectboard Chairman Richard Grassi points out, it would be foolhardy to proceed until those issues are resolved, no matter how frustrating that may be.

Thus the playground takeover can be seen as the latest attempt by QLLA to exert pressure on town officials. It had previously raised the prospect of restricting access to some of the development’s amenities — Lake Pinneo, the ski hill, the polo field and the golf courses — that have been available for public use to various degrees for years through a series of informal arrangements with the town. In April 2015, the landowners association proposed a formal five-year agreement under which the town would pay $35,000 annually for use of the facilities, a portion of which QLLA would return to the town as a contribution toward the timely construction of the pocket park — “subject to the right of QLLA to have significant involvement in selecting the final design.” It is no wonder that the town did not execute such an agreement, which not only would have provided QLLA with what amounted to a veto over the design of a public improvement but also proposed to dictate how the park project would be paid for.

This is classic overreach by an organization with a legitimate grievance that risks inflicting great harm on its reputation while trying to vindicate its position. The pocket park, or something else, will eventually be built, and  the whole affair will recede into the mists of time. But it’s in QLLA’s long-term interest to maintain and enhance its relationship with the town rather than alienate its neighbors by picking up its toys and going home. That would be remembered long after the quarrel over the pocket park is forgotten.