PETERBOROUGH — Town officials could fine Akhil Garland, who owns the former Walden Eco-Village, as much as $700,000 over a litany of violations that Peterborough inspectors have reported finding at the Middle Hancock Road site.
In a lawsuit filed May 27, Town Attorney John Ratigan argued that Garland — in his role with a family trust that owns the 52-acre property — owes penalties for the alleged violations, which include fire-code infractions and failure to comply with zoning rules.
Peterborough’s code enforcement officer, Tim Herlihy, reported finding those violations at the Eco-Village last December, prompting town officials to order the community’s 25 residents to leave their homes in less than a week. Herlihy, who is also the town’s zoning administrator, told Garland in April to “immediately cease use of the cabins and rentals” there and said Garland would need to resolve the alleged infractions by September to continue using the site. (Garland has proposed subdividing the Eco-Village property and creating 20 homes there, which require new zoning approval.)
In the lawsuit, initially filed in the 8th Circuit Court in Jaffrey, Ratigan said those violations “continue unabated.” He declined to comment Wednesday on why the town brought its lawsuit before the September deadline, citing the pending litigation.
Among the violations reported at the Eco-Village, town officials have said Garland, a Harrisville resident, built nine tiny homes without obtaining proper permitting, expanded a septic system on the site without approval, and breached electrical and fire-safety standards.
Peterborough seeks to levy a $275 fine for each of the 15 violations that officials have alleged, in addition to a $550 fine for every day that each alleged violation hasn’t been resolved since Herlihy’s notice to Garland in April, according to the town’s lawsuit.
Ratigan told The Sentinel on Wednesday that while the fines could total $700,000, that figure would ultimately be decided by the court, which he said often awards a much lower sum.
In an objection to the suit last month, Garland’s attorney, Steven J. Dutton, noted that Peterborough is involved in a separate case in Cheshire County Superior Court in which several former Eco-Village tenants are suing Garland based on similar claims that he violated code and zoning rules. The town was added as a third-party defendant in that case in March, meaning it could be liable for any harm to the tenants if the court rules that officials failed to warn Garland of the alleged code violations before closing the Eco-Village.
In his objection, Dutton accused Peterborough of trying to circumvent the superior court’s jurisdiction in that case, resulting in “two-track litigation,” and asked that its recent claims against Garland be transferred to the superior court.
Judge Edwin W. Kelly granted that request last week, according to court filings.
Garland’s subdivision plan, which is before Peterborough’s planning board, has drawn heavy criticism from many nearby residents.