No mediation in Putney housing challenge

WWHT files for summary judgment, saying ‘it’s purely a legal issue’

PUTNEY — Despite a suggestion by Environmental Court Superior Judge Thomas Durkin that mediation might resolve the issues in the dispute over the Windham & Windsor Housing Trust's (WWHT) proposed $11.7 million Alice Holway Drive housing project, neither party in the case agreed.

"We offered to mediate, but the Trust wasn't interested and they filed a motion for summary judgement, so we'll be doing that," said Attorney Harold B. Stevens III after an about-20-minute teleconference hearing that took place on Nov. 27 with representatives from the Trust and appellants Deborah Lazar and Laura Campbell, who live nearby and for whom Stevens is legal counsel.

"It's a purely legal issue," said Attorney Peter G. Raymond of Sheehey, Furlong, & Behm, P.C., legal counsel for the WWHT. "Because the appeal raises a pure legal question, that's how we intend to proceed."

The Trust has filed a motion for summary judgment in advance of a Dec. 22 deadline.

As explained by Vermont Rules of Procedure, Rule #56, "A party may move for summary judgment, identifying each claim or defense - or the part of each claim or defense - on which summary judgment is sought."

The court is required to grant summary judgment "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The court should state on the record the reasons for granting or denying the motion." clarifies, saying, "in bringing a summary judgment motion, a party is arguing that there can be no real dispute about material facts and the moving party is entitled to win the case as a matter of law."

Further, a motion for summary judgment "does not allow the court to decide issues of fact, but to examine the pleadings and proof to determine if a trial is necessary," the legal research service continues.

This is the third appeal by neighbors to the site where the Trust has been planning since 2019 to build two buildings with 25 units to serve mixed-income families and individuals on 0.91 acres next to the Putney Community Gardens.

The Trust has won two previous appeals, including one in Vermont Supreme Court.

In the current appeal, Lazar and Campbell contend the Trust's lots are not contiguous and therefore do not qualify for exemptions from aspects of Act 250, the state's land use and development law.

They are also contesting a previous District Commissioner's jurisdictional opinion that concluded the project is exempt from Act 250 land use review.

Stevens has 30 days from Raymond's filing of the summary judgment motion to respond.

This News item by Virginia Ray was written for The Commons.

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