Complaints spark discussion on Colrain’s unregistered vehicle bylaw

Staff Writer
Published: 10/28/2021 4:36:12 PM

COLRAIN — Two formal and several informal complaints about the presence of unregistered vehicles and junk in residents’ yards inspired a discussion about the town’s general and zoning bylaws during Tuesday’s Selectboard meeting.

The Selectboard was met with a group of residents protesting any town action regarding their private property. The meeting, however, was focused on developing a general notification letter about the town’s unregistered vehicle and junk bylaws that will be sent to all residents with their tax bills next week.

Selectboard member Michael Slowinski said this has been an ongoing problem the town has not addressed because of all the difficulties caused by the pandemic.

“This has been ongoing,” Slowinski said, “because of COVID and other issues.”

The town’s general bylaws, which were approved by residents in February 1967, state, “The keeping of more than one unregistered motor vehicle … on any premises shall not be permitted unless said motor vehicle is stored within an enclosed building.”

Section 4.1 of Colrain’s zoning bylaws state, “Open air storage of junk, including inoperable motor vehicles, trash, debris, scrap materials and all other uses (that) are injurious to their neighborhood or to property in the vicinity are expressly prohibited.”

Those who attended the meeting said they were more concerned about the general bylaws because their vehicles were operable and they understood the dangers of having junk and debris clutter a yard.

Residents said they were being unfairly targeted for their hobby of having several vehicles in their yard, which are used for a variety of activities like demolition derbies, general body work, and repairing friends and families’ vehicles. Resident Jamie Hall said these hobbies keep youths out of trouble while also providing learning opportunities they may not get if they don’t go to a tech school.

“I have the right to use my property for my hobby,” Hall said. “There’s lots of positives. It’s their hobby, their sport.”

Resident Ben Davenport said he has several Jeeps at his house and the town should not force him to get rid of them or build a fence to hide them because he pays his property taxes.

“Ignore it, don’t look at my house … just drive by,” Davenport said. “Pay my taxes or leave me alone.”

Selectboard members said they have no intention of enforcing any sort of policy at Tuesday’s meeting and said they wouldn’t even address the two formal complaints against residents until the notification letter was sent to the whole town. Chair Joe Kurland said the town wants residents to be involved in the development of an enforcement and permit policy.

“We need to work out a procedure for a permit,” Kurland said. “I welcome you to be part of that discussion.”

Kurland reassured residents the letter being distributed with the tax bills is not addressed to any specific residents and if there is a formal complaint against them in the future, the Selectboard will do everything it can to avoid fining people or bringing the matter to land court.

“Our intention is to be as gentle, as accommodating as we can be. We want to work with you,” Kurland said. “The last thing we want is an adversarial relationship. When you go to court, everyone loses.”

Slowinski agreed and motioned for the Selectboard to table the two formal complaints until the board’s next meeting on Nov. 9, which will be after the tax bills and letters are sent out.

“Don’t do anything with enforcement,” Slowinski said, “until those letters go out.”

With that decision, residents’ concerns were appeased for the moment and they said they’d be back to further discuss the matter at the next meeting.

Several options were laid out for the residents at the meeting if they were to receive a complaint: they could remove the vehicles from their yard, erect a fence or other building to house the vehicles, or bring a petition to Town Meeting to change the bylaws.

Town Administrator Kevin Fox said residents attending the meeting were upset because they thought enforcement decisions were already made and he was glad people were able to have a civil discussion with the Selectboard and work something out. He added that bylaws are approved by residents and can be amended at Town Meeting by a citizen’s petition if that is the will of the people.

“I think a lot of people came in tonight thinking the die had been cast,” Fox said. “They have to understand they can change (bylaws) if they want.”

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.


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