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Supreme Court overturns Goshen pot conviction, sets precedent


GOSHEN — The Vermont Supreme Court on Friday issued a majority opinion overturning the felony “cultivation of marijuana” conviction of a Goshen man on grounds that the man’s constitutional rights were violated by authorities’ aerial search of his property.

The ruling is expected to set a major precedent for how law enforcement in Vermont conducts aerial searches.

In June of 2005 Addison County District Court Judge Christina Reiss sentenced Stephen Bryant to 45 days in jail in connection with his cultivation of 49 marijuana plants that he said he’d been using to treat chronic pain from a horrific construction site accident he had sustained in 1974.

Vermont State Police detected his illegal crop during a helicopter flyover of Bryant’s Goshen property on Aug. 7, 2003. They executed a search warrant the next day.

Bryant and his attorney, Robert Keiner of Middlebury, argued that Bryant had been using the marijuana for medicinal purposes and that the aerial photographs constituted an illegal search. A majority of the Supreme Court justices agreed to the latter argument but did not take up the former.

The opinion, written by Justice Marilyn Skoglund, noted — among other things — testimony offered by the defense quoting witnesses as saying the VSP’s surveillance helicopter was less than 500 feet above Bryant’s property for around 30 minutes.

“The (lower) court concluded that the police surveillance was not so intrusive as to violate the Vermont Constitution,” the opinion reads. “We disagree and reverse.”

The justices also noted that state laws governing aeronautics require that aircraft must maintain an altitude of at least 500 feet, except above water or sparsely populated areas.

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New Haven landowner seeks commercial permit for Route 7 land


NEW HAVEN — New Haven resident and property owner Steve Dupoise has filed a petition to rezone 20 acres of land along Route 7 south of Belden Falls Road to allow commercial development.

If the town votes to support the petition, Dupoise said that Town and Country Homes, a dealer of manufactured housing now based in Vergennes, would move to a five-acre parcel on the corner of Belden Falls Road and Route 7.

The planning commission of New Haven decided not to endorse the change, but the petition will result in a town vote on the matter.

In anticipation of the townwide vote, the commission will hold a public hearing to discuss the plan on Thursday, April 3, at 7 p.m. in the town hall. The selectboard will hold a hearing after that and then the vote will be scheduled.

Steve and Marcia Dupoise own a parcel of about 30 acres on the west side of Route 7, south of Belden Falls Road. The southernmost 10 acres is zoned as highway commercial and is already the site of Ethan Allen Highway Storage, which they own.

Steve Dupoise said Town and Country Homes owners Pat and Lisa Whitley approached him to see about moving their business to the Route 7 site for greater visibility. Whitley could not be reached for comment, but if the proposal to rezone the area is granted, Dupoise said Town and Country Homes would probably resemble a housing development, with two or three sample homes on the site and a small office.

Dupoise said he had no plans for the space between the existing storage company and the proposed site of Town and Country Homes, although the proposal to rezone includes that parcel, too.

According to New Haven Planning Commission chairman Al Karnatz, the commission had decided not to recommend the change when Dupoise approached them.

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March 27th

ACTR unveils plan for new $4 million headquarters


MIDDLEBURY — Addison County Transit Resources (ACTR) on April 28 will ask the Middlebury Development Review Board for permission to build a new headquarters off Creek Road to accommodate the organization’s growing bus fleet, which serve the region’s increasing demand for public transportation.

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Frost party organizer sentenced


MIDDLEBURY — The organizer of a Dec. 28 underage drinking party that caused $10,600 in damage to the former summer home of Robert Frost in Ripton will not serve any jail time, but will pay $3,500 in restitution, perform 100 hours of community service and be on probation for two years.

Those were the main components of a plea agreement negotiated between Addison County State’s Attorney John Quinn and 18-year-old Ripton resident Andrew Ford, who fainted during a courtroom discussion with Addison County District Court Judge Helen Toor as she accepted the plea deal on Tuesday.

Ford suddenly collapsed and appeared to lose consciousness as judge Toor queried him on his reasons for organizing the party at the Homer Noble House that drew more than two dozen people, many of them Middlebury Union High School students. Most of those students have already accepted court diversion as punishment for their roles in the destructive party, which has garnered national publicity.

Court officials quickly cleared the courtroom after Ford’s collapse, but called off an ambulance after he quickly regained composure and completed the sentencing hearing, with his parents at his side.

“I have never scared someone so much that someone fainted in my courtroom,” Toor told Ford in a brief light moment after order had been restored. “I was trying to scare you a little bit, but not that much.”

Ford’s punishment includes a suspended jail term of six- to 12 months and an educational course that he and the other culprits will have to attend. Quinn confirmed on Tuesday that he is speaking with Jay Parini, author and D. E. Axinn Professor of English and Creative Writing at Middlebury College, about leading the course to enlighten the youths about Frost’s iconic status as an American poet.

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Retired math professor counts to 100


SALISBURY — Don Ballou concedes that his body and mind are showing some signs of wear and tear.

He’s more than entitled.

Ballou, a resident of the Shard Villa senior care home in Salisbury, will be celebrating his 100th birthday on Friday, March 28.

“I’ve been very fortunate in a lot of ways, and I’ve had a lot of help,” Ballou said on Monday, in reflecting upon a very rich life that has included some 31 years as a mathematics professor at Middlebury College and a fulfilling retirement during which he has traveled to all corners of the globe.

“I’m quite indebted to all the folks who have helped me along the way, such as here (at Shard Villa) and at Elderly Services (in Middlebury),” he said.

Don Ballou was born on March 28, 1908, in Chester, Vt. Theodore Roosevelt was in the White House. Frenchman Henri Farman had just piloted the first passenger flight, and Robert Baden-Powell had just established the Boy Scout movement.

Chester was a wonderful place in which to grow up, Ballou recalled. He enjoyed going to school, where he developed a particular fondness for English and math.

He completed his undergraduate studies in English at Yale University, but decided to switch his focus to math after deciding that his mind “worked better” solving equations rather than “talking around a subject” in English.

So, Ballou went on to Harvard University for his graduate studies in math then took his first teaching job, as a mathematics professor at Georgia Tech in 1934.

He considered himself fortunate to land the job.

“It was toward the end of the (Great) Depression,” Ballou said. “There weren’t many positions available.”

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March 24th

Affordable housing bill draws criticism


MIDDLEBURY — Local planners and developers joined the Douglas administration last week in panning a House-passed affordable housing bill they said was more of an anti-sprawl measure that would not substantially boost the state’s stock of low-cost homes.

The bill, which received final approval in the House on Wednesday by a 79-61 tally, proposes to create economic incentives and streamline the Act 250 permitting process for developers proposing projects containing at least 20-percent affordable housing in and around designated downtowns and villages.

The bill also amends criterion 9L of Act 250 in a manner that opponents believe will make it harder to develop housing in rural areas and communities that don’t yet have designated downtowns and villages.

“I don’t doubt that the intentions of the bill are worthy, but the unintended consequences will be just the opposite of what it’s hoping to accomplish,” said Bill Sayre, a Bristol resident and leader of Associated Industries of Vermont, an organization that advocates for public policy that protects the “private enterprise economy” in the state.

Sayre and other opponents of the bill argue that it may actually make it harder for developers to build affordable housing — even at the monetary threshold prescribed by the legislation. That threshold is 80 percent of Vermont Housing Finance Agency’s limit for new homes, which translates to $219,200 in Addison County — an amount that many argue is too high to be considered affordable. The legislation calls for the units to remain ‘affordable’ for at least 15 years.

Officials in communities that have designated downtowns or villages note there is little room left in, or around, those areas in which to create new housing, let alone at an affordable price.

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Applicants swamp Bristol town office seeking positions on local boards


BRISTOL — While some towns have struggled to find people to serve on various boards and elected offices, 11 Bristol residents have expressed interest in seats on the planning commission, with only two incumbents leaving. In fact, a total of 39 town residents have indicated interest in positions on eight town boards and committees.

Selectmen will interview the candidates at a special meeting on Monday at 7 p.m. in Holley Hall. They may make decisions regarding the candidates then, but Selectwoman Sharon Compagna said appointments, an annual activity after March town meeting, will probably not be made until the regular selectboard meeting on March 31.

Compagna attributed the increased interest to the fact that an application form for volunteer positions was included in the town report.

Others say the ongoing controversy over plans for a gravel pit on land south of downtown Bristol has apparently spurred greater civic involvement, particularly on the planning commission.

Town administrator Bill Bryant said other municipal groups attracted “not that level of interest,” getting far fewer applicants per seat than the planning commission. The Revolving Loan Fund board, for example, only received four new applicants in addition to the seven members up for reappointment to one-year terms.

There are nine seats on the Bristol Planning Commission, each with a three-year term. Two of the members whose terms are up have expressed an interest in continuing, according to Bryant: Stan Livingston and Jim Peabody. Diane Heffernan, the third member whose term is up, isn’t interested in serving again, and Bunny Daubner is stepping down even though her term isn’t up until 2010, citing family health issues, Bryant said.

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Bridport Grange nets $15,000 grant to repair historic landmark.


BRIDPORT — The Bridport Grange Hall will receive a $15,680 cut of $196,000 in federal money recently secured by Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., for senior centers in four counties.

Bridport Grange Hall became eligible for the money as host of the Bridport Seniors Group. The hall also serves as a distribution point for the local Meals on Wheels program (see related story this page).

The Champlain Valley Agency on Aging will receive the grant money. Leaders of the Bridport Grange and Bridport Seniors Group will together discuss how the money will be spent on improvements to the building.

Jim Morse, an officer with the Bridport Grange, said the building could use work on its dining room floor and its parking amenities. Visitors currently must park alongside the road or off-site.

“It sounds really good,” Morse said of the grant award.

Debbie Plouffe, another officer of the Grange, said the organization has been able to make other important repairs to the building thanks to special fund-raising events and fees garnered by the facility. Those repairs have included new windows, a new furnace, painting and insulation for the walls.

Seniors use the Grange Hall at least twice a week, primarily for meals and socializing, Plouffe said.

When announcing the grant last week, Sanders said the importance of senior centers, like Bridport’s, should not be underestimated.

“Senior centers in Vermont play a great role in making sure that older Vermonters receive the nutrition, socialization and health care they need,” said Sanders. “Unfortunately, many of these senior centers are located in older buildings that need infrastructure improvements.”

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