Town in Vermont fights to save its charm

This picturesque town, which has provided a backdrop for early environmentalists

WOODSTOCK, Vt. — This picturesque town, which has provided a backdrop for early environmentalists, the Rockefellers and even the Budweiser Clydesdales, is fighting a battle over how to keep the charm that has become its trademark. At issue: window shutters.

Zoning regulations require that most buildings in the central district have shutters, relics that once helped protect buildings but have evolved into a symbol of the architectural beauty of rural New England.

“The Village of Woodstock has an international reputation as one of the finest examples of a traditional New England Village,” say the village zoning regulations.

Many shutters adorning homes and buildings were installed decades ago, and they are deteriorating. Some property owners are questioning the community’s requirement, arguing that the regulations are enforced irregularly, and that some buildings look better without shutters.

In 2014, the village lost a legal battle with someone who wanted to remove their shutters, so officials rewrote the rules. It won two more recent court cases supporting its shutter position.

One local property owner who lost a case, and is now being required to reinstall shutters on the building he owns at village’s edge, said that many buildings don’t have shutters and that he believes his looks better without them.

“We consider ourselves good citizens and want to comply with the regulations. Our view is there’s an inconsistency of application,” said William Bawden, of Washington, D.C., who since 1999 has owned an antique business with his wife in a separate building behind the structure that was the subject of his case.

The bigger issue is about more than just shutters, said Town Planner Michael Brands. It’s about anything that changes the look of a house in Woodstock’s design review district — including picket fences, window air conditioners, kitchen vents and, more recently heat pumps. New technology has to be made to blend in to the architecture, and all is subject to review, he said.

“As time goes on, more and more communities across the country are losing their historic-ness and the look they had,” he said. “Once you allow two or three buildings to be removed and replaced with something god-awful from the ’70s, the entire historic ambience is gone and unlikely to return.”

The village of Woodstock, with a population of about 1,000, was home to early environmentalists George Perkins Marsh, the author of the 1864 book Man and Nature, and Frederick Billings. In the 1930s, Laurance Rockefeller, an heir to the Rockefeller oil fortune, married Billings’ granddaughter Mary French in Woodstock.

In 1992, the Rockefellers helped create the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Park not far away. Mansions of the rich and sometimes famous dot the hillsides outside the village.

Anheuser-Busch has used Woodstock and vicinity as a backdrop for its classic Christmastime commercials featuring draft horses pulling a wagon in the snow.

“It’s the look of the community that’s very important to us,” Brands said.

Deteriorating shutters can cost $100 or more to replace, and it can be expensive even for some of Woodstock’s well-to-do, Brands acknowledged.

“People are refusing to put them up now,” he said.

Jennifer Henaghan, deputy research director at the Chicago-based American Planning Association, said such conflicts are common across the country.

“No one likes to be told what to do,” she said. “It’s up to the communities to ensure that their requirements are in line with what the community wants.”

Just Posted

Red Deer respiratory therapist Sarah MacKenzie was among the first central Alberta health professionals to receive the Pfizer vaccine in December 2020. Since then, nearly 3.4 million doses have been administered and COVID cases are falling rapidly. Photo by Alberta Health Services
Red Deer COVID cases continue to fall sharply

Red Deer cases almost into the double digits after topping more than 900 only five weeks ago

(Advocate file photo.)
Red Deer city council discusses strategies to restore integrated emergency dispatching

Red Deer city councillors discussed additional ways on Tuesday to try to… Continue reading

Local developers who are doing building upgrades or new construction will face less land servicing costs and gain some flexibility. (File photo by Advocate staff)
From left: Montana First Nation councillor Reggie Rabbit, Samson Cree Nation councillor Louise Omeasoo, Samson Cree Nation councillor Katherine Swampy, Samson Cree Nation councillor Shannon Buffalo and Samson Cree Nation chief Vern Saddleback were present during the painting of the Maskwacis Pride crosswalk. (Contributed photo)
Being gay made him contemplate suicide: Councillor in Maskwacis opens up

Maskwacis got a bit mote colourful over the weekend. Volunteers spent Saturday… Continue reading

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

The Pornhub website is shown on a computer screen in Toronto on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020. Pornhub says it has removed all content uploaded by non-verified users. The sex website faced accusations it hosted illegal content. The company, which is owned by Montreal-based Mindgeek, says it has suspended all previously uploaded content that was not created by one of its content partners or members of its Model Program. THE CANADIAN PRESS
International women’s rights advocates call on Canada to hold Pornhub to account

Jeanette Westbrook says being sexually abused as a child will haunt her… Continue reading

FILE - In this Jan. 9, 2021 file photo, transporters Miguel Lopez, right, Noe Meza prepare to move a body of a COVID-19 victim to a morgue at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in the Mission Hills section of Los Angeles. The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 has topped 600,000, even as the vaccination drive has drastically slashed daily cases and deaths and allowed the country to emerge from the gloom. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)
US COVID-19 deaths hit 600,000, equal to yearly cancer toll

The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 topped 600,000 on Tuesday, even as… Continue reading

FILE - In this April 1, 2019 file photo, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry talks about health care legislation he's backing in the upcoming session, in Baton Rouge, La. The Biden administration’s suspension of new oil and gas leases on federal land and water was blocked Tuesday by a federal judge in Louisiana. U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty's ruling came in a lawsuit filed in March by Louisiana’s Republican attorney general, Jeff Landry and officials in 12 other states. (AP Photo/Melinda Deslatte, File)
Federal judge blocks Biden’s pause on new oil, gas leases

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The Biden administration’s suspension of new oil and… Continue reading

Israeli police officers detain a Palestinian man during clashes that erupted ahead of a planned march by Jewish ultranationalists through east Jerusalem, outside Jerusalem's Old City, Tuesday, June 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)
Israelis march in east Jerusalem in test for new government

JERUSALEM (AP) — Hundreds of Israeli ultranationalists, some chanting “Death to Arabs,”… Continue reading

Montreal Canadiens right wing Brendan Gallagher (11) vies for the puck with Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Alex Pietrangelo (7) during the third period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup semifinal playoff series Monday, June 14, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Vets Pietrangelo, Perry contributing for Vegas, Montreal

LAS VEGAS — Alex Pietrangelo and Corey Perry had very different free… Continue reading

Montreal Canadiens goaltender Jake Allen stands for the national anthem prior to an NHL hockey game against the Calgary Flames in Montreal, Saturday, January 30, 2021. Public health experts say Quebec should wait until more people have received a second dose of COVID-19 before increasing the number of fans allowed to attend Montreal Canadiens home games. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Quebec to increase arena capacity before first home game in Habs playoff series

MONTREAL — Quebec will increase the number of people allowed to attend… Continue reading

New CFL balls are photographed at the Winnipeg Blue Bombers stadium in Winnipeg, Thursday, May 24, 2018. Halifax regional council will consider today a new report on a proposed 24,000-seat stadium, the pivotal component of a bid to land a Canadian Football League team for the East Coast's largest city.THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Most Read