PETERBOROUGH — The town’s code enforcement officer has reported finding additional zoning violations at the Walden Eco-Village last December and offered more details about the infractions that prompted officials to order the village’s 25 residents to leave their homes at the time.
In an April 20 letter, Code Enforcement Officer Tim Herlihy, who is also the town’s zoning administrator, told Eco-Village owner Akhil Garland that violations at the Middle Hancock Road community include an unauthorized septic expansion, failure to comply with multiple zoning permits and wetlands-related infractions.
To remedy the violations, Garland must obtain town approval for continued use of the 52-acre site and also address the code and wetlands issues, Herlihy wrote. The Peterborough Planning Board is currently considering a proposal from Garland to subdivide and expand the former Eco-Village.
Herlihy’s April letter came about four months after he informed Garland on Dec. 11 that nearly all of the Eco-Village’s structures — which included six residential cottages and eight “casitas,” or tiny homes — had unapproved utilities connections and were unauthorized for use as permanent residences. Those findings followed a site inspection that Herlihy and Peterborough Fire Inspector Lt. Scott Symonds conducted a day earlier, in response to Garland’s subdivision plan.
In his Dec. 11 letter, Herlihy ordered Garland to require that all Eco-Village tenants leave their homes within five days due to the reported code violations, some of which Fire Chief Ed Walker said posed an “immediate danger” to residents.
Herlihy listed those infractions in his April 20 letter and said Garland had also expanded the Eco-Village’s septic system to serve 15 homes, up from its original capacity of seven.
The use of roads on site for residential access and the development of permanent rental housing — rather than temporary shelter for Well School staff, as initially planned — violated a 2006 special exception and a 2010 variance, respectively, according to Herlihy.
Herlihy also wrote that the Eco-Village included unauthorized wetlands crossings and numerous structures built without approval in the town-required buffer around wetlands.
The planning board is scheduled to consider Garland’s subdivision plan on May 10. The proposal includes as many as 21 homes at the former Eco-Village, some of which would come from the existing cottages.
Court case continues
Herlihy’s letter comes nearly a month after Peterborough was added as a third-party defendant in a lawsuit that several former Eco-Village tenants brought against Garland earlier this year.
Arguing that town officials knew of the code violations before last December, Garland and his real estate entities — a family trust that owns the Eco-Village, and his rental management company — had asked the Hillsborough County Superior Court’s northern branch in March to add Peterborough as a defendant in the case. Judge Diane Nicolosi granted that request March 25, according to court records.
As a third-party defendant, Peterborough could be held responsible for any harm to former Eco-Village residents if the court rules that it caused Garland to breach his duties as a landlord by failing to inform him of code violations at the site.
In a March 5 court filing, Garland said the town was aware of those infractions because the town’s previous code enforcement officer knew of the casitas, Eco-Village residents had registered to vote and the fire department had visited the village.
“[Garland] did not know, and could not have known, that any of the representations made ... concerning the Village were improper, materially incorrect or misleading, or that the Town would suddenly reverse course and seek out alleged violations requiring eviction from the property,” the filing states.
Steven J. Dutton, an attorney with the Manchester law firm McLane Middleton who is representing Garland, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
In a separate court filing late last month, the town of Peterborough denied Garland’s claim that officials knew of the code violations before reporting them and asked the court to dismiss the town from the case. Town Administrator Nicole MacStay declined to comment on the court’s decision to add Peterborough as a third-party defendant Monday, instead referring to Herlihy’s April 20 letter.
Peterborough attorney Jason Bielagus, who is representing the former Eco-Village tenants, said he was “not entirely clear” why the town could be responsible for Garland’s failure to obtain proper zoning permits.
Bielagus said he was not aware that any town officials knew of the code violations before last winter. Even if people handling voter registration or members of the fire department knew the unpermitted structures existed, he argued, it would not mean the town had withheld information from Garland.
“They don’t know what permits have been issued and haven’t been issued,” he said. “They don’t know if stuff is built to code.”