Letter: Asks 'why must we be taking 'sides' in Washington

To the Editor:

In October, I sat down in the upstairs meeting room of the Washington Town Hall, to attend a Zoning Commission meeting, when the person behind me leaned in and asked, “What side are you on?”

“Are there sides?” I asked.

“Oh yes,” she answered, “I am just not sure if I am sitting with the right side.”

I shrugged. Obviously, I had missed something. “Missed the memo.” That would have been intended as a joke, except I discovered later that a flyer and Facebook posts had gone around among certain local groups in advance of the Zoning meeting that were encouraging attendance and advocating for a “side.”

I discovered a post: “Join us October 28 at the Washington Zoning Commission hearing and help us support arts in our community! We love our local arts scene — and we hope it continues to grow! The Zoning Commission has proposed regulations that would counteract the approved town plan for conservation and development. These revisions would drastically limit opportunities for future community arts events and activities in Washington. We'd love your help in keeping Washington a vibrant, growing community. Please join us at the public hearing: Oct 28, 7:30 p.m. at Washington Town Hall. For more information or for other ways to help, contact … at … Thank you so much for helping us keep our community active and inspiring!”

Up for discussion that night were the Zoning Commission’s proposed changes to the Zoning regulations of Washington’s residential district.

The hearing opened with the statement, “It is the Zoning Commission’s intent to clarify section 12.8 in order to continue to protect Washington’s residential district that encompasses 98 percent of the town’s size.”

The Zoning Commission was asked many questions by the standing-room only public and what became clear was the implication that if you were for the proposed changes to the zoning regulations, then you were somehow against the future of Washington’s arts and culture scene.

It was apparent that the meeting had been purposefully packed with people who were responding to the call for help requested in the flyer and the Facebook postings.

They came to object to zoning’s proposed regulation intended to protect residents and neighborhoods from the noise and the increase in traffic caused by temporary non-profit events in the residential district; and to set limits on the number of days that temporary non-profit events could be held in the residential district.

Why was this regulation being falsely portrayed as some kind of a threat to Washington’s active and inspiring community, counteracting the approved Town Plan for Conservation and Development, and drastically limiting opportunities for Washington’s future community arts events and activities?

The commission’s proposed regulation 12.8 should not be purposefully misconstrued as a threat to Washington’s culture and arts scene.

I cannot imagine a town where the residents are more active and supportive of their community in all its creative, artistic, educational and business facets, then Washington.

Washington provides numerous excellent locations for for-profit and non-profit events and has been holding temporary events, festivals and even fairs and shows, for decades.

And when a non-profit event is allowed to be held in the residential district, it is normal that there be clear Zoning regulations to protect the quality of life of the residents.

Why is there an attempt to try to create animosity and conflict between Washington’s residents, the Zoning Commission and the town’s arts and culture scene?

Why must we be taking “sides?” Why should there be a ‘cultural winner’ and a ‘residential loser?’

To actively encourage Washingtonians to think this way is dangerous, most of all to our town’s sense of community.

Louise van Tartwijk