HERITAGE SNEAKS ZIP LINE BY BUILDING INSPECTOR & ZBA
First of all, let me say that I am a member of the Heritage Museum & Gardens, and my wife and I like it there very much. She likes the gardens, I enjoyed the antique cars and the giant insects.
But, what I witnessed at the appeal by Tom Stanton of the initial building permit given by Building Inspector Paul Spiro, and other necessary pieces issued by the Zoning Board of Appeals was horrifying, if not bordering on fraudulent. As Carlo DePersio told me after the hearing, "They're sneaks. They started with the wrong lot so they didn't have to notify abutters. The building permit was issued for the wrong lot. They never let abutters know. The permit should be revoked and they should start again with the right lot."
The wrong lot didn't shock me as much as what they did to get their permits. They applied for an exception under the Dover Act, which permits non-profit educational facilities to get around local zoning. They applied for the Zip Line aerial attraction as an educational piece. But, the applications to the State--to Attorney General Martha Coakley and Secretary of State Bill Galvin revealed a bit of a dastardly deed, which this writer DOES consider fraudulent. As revealed by abutter Erin Sullivan, who did the investigation on her own, the Heritage Museum & Gardens non-profit "lent" their non profit status to national amusement park company, Outdoor Ventures, by actually forming a FOR PROFIT corporation, Adventure Park at Heritage Museum & Gardens, LLC. Now, if they had applied with the town through this FOR PROFIT company to build the Zip Line attraction, it would have been turned down, in all likelihood. But, they never revealed the true OWNER of this outdoor attraction! The owner of the PROPERTY is the non-profit Heritage, but they became a landlord to the FOR PROFIT corporation, which was split between Bahman Azarm, CEO of Outdoor Ventures, and Heritage M & G non profit.
A more than capacity crowd turned out to the Human Resources Building to attend the ZBA hearing, chaired by Jim Killion. Some came to support the Zip Line, but about 75% came to fight it, on grounds of traffic, parking, and the changing of a nice quiet attraction. After the bombshell delivered by Sullivan, the crowd waited for an explanation. Attorney Eliza Cox, speaking for Heritage, said that the "LLC" for profit corporation was done for "liability" reasons. After the meeting, I asked her why the LLC was not revealed during the application process, and she refused to answer.
Cox told the ZBA that their hands were tied. "You can't review the decision or the process. This permit was issued in a strictly legal manner." She said that the Heritage non profit owns all of the property the Zip Line will run over, and that Outdoor Ventures will operate the day to day and safety operations of the Zip Line. She added, "The dominent use will be education. We expect 8-12,000 people during the 12 week peak period. The Zip Line will be open from 10-5 (10-6 in July and August.) We expect an additional 96 people per day. This is a benign project and this appeal should be denied."
Ellen Spear, CEO and President of Heritage's non profit, tried to explain the educational component of the Zip Line. "They can learn about Climate Change. This aerial adventure is an exhibit. There will be 10 interactive trails (on the ground.) They can practice math skills. There will be five aerial trails with 70 challenges. Of those 70, only 9 involve the Zip Lines. There's creativity, environmental literacy--it's easy to see how aerial adventures are part of this advanced technology." Attorney Cox once more emphasized that "this is not an amusement park and it is tied to an educational purpose." Spear said the aerial park would be "an extension of our Hidden Hollow program for children, rather than a stand alone." Added Cox, ominously, "Education is a word that must be expansively and broadly interpreted."
This definitely sets a precendent. If the permit is given, and this is built, any non profit educational center could do something similar. As one speaker said, "Don't be surprised to see a Ferris Wheel at Green Briar." There was no formal study on traffic, the roads, the water, runoff, or parking. It was all skipped due to the Dover Act exemptions. Don Stainbrook noted that "Heritage is in a historic quiet residential neighborhood. Outdoor Ventures is a large chain with 15 adventure parks. None are in neighborhoods and none mention anything about education. If they are allowed to build, the traffic will come. Heritage has presented misleading information to promote something that has nothing to do with education. This is an amusement. I'd request you review the appeal."
W. Robert Wentworth said, "I simply cannot understand how any of these kids on a zipline will learn about trees, or listen to lectures on Rhododendrons, and natural habitats. How will this truly lead to educational experiences? Heritage is not the proper place for an adventure park with a zipline. This should be in the Golden Triangle with the Sports Destination Park already planned."
Two folks stood to support the project. One was from Barnstable and owned a preschool, and talked about the great educational experiences her young children had at Heritage. Another was a Heritage Board member who told how his three young children enjoy the museum and gardens. School Committee member Andrea Killion told me she supported the project, adding, "It's a unique opportunity for learning in Sandwich."
Personally, I'd like to have heard from a teen or a twenty-something about the educational advantages of a zipline. I know I'd enjoy it, if it's built. I always loved zip lines. But, until the neighbors get to speak their piece, and all the proper information is studied, the ZBA should pull the permit.
Sandwich definitely needs businesses that pay much-needed taxes to our town. Camouflaging a profitable operation beneath a non profit isn't it.
But, it's still hard to believe that the ZBA took a vote "to take it under advisement," waited for everyone to leave, and then rejected the appeal, and supported this backwoods application. As I said, I'm not necessarily opposed to the zip line, but I am opposed to the lack of transparency that has been rewarded by our Building Dept. and now our ZBA. That is just plain wrong, and unfair to neighbors who never got to have their say.
(C) 2014 by PMPNetwork, Inc.
Photos by Mark Snyder (left, of the crowd. right, Ellen Spear and Eliza Cox)