Letter, Opinion

The penalty for being Black in Killington

Dear Editor,

Thank you for allowing my family’s voice to be heard. We’ve spent years in legal disputes, pursuing the town for our “grandfathered status” and illegal “selective enforcement.” There is a significant amount of information to share and I would be doing the story a disservice by only talking about the wastewater system that has not failed and is fully functional.

Instead, I’m writing this letter to share our two-year experience and provide the facts of this case. The facts are what Killington residents, homeowners, and businesses need to see/hear.

For 13 years I owned and operated a vacation rental home in Killington without incident or complaint until September 2018. (The notion that this has been going on prior to then is false.) The town has never provided such evidence via certified mail; they won’t because it didn’t occur.

During the summer of 2018, my family and I relocated from Colorado to raise our children in Vermont and we lived in our home at 287 Estabrook Road in Killington, for the first time ever during the month of May: myself with my black wife, biracial kids, and black in-laws visiting.

Two weeks after our month stay in Killington my neighbor began lodging complaints about my septic, the noise, and the safety of the home.

Again all of this comes after 13 years of conducting business right next door without a single issue whatsoever. Furthermore, I was a customer of his cleaning business just a few years earlier.

As communication and allegations persisted it became obvious to us that this was a particularly charged situation, more specifically a racially charged situation. Ultimately his allegations about my septic, the noise, and safety proved unsubstantiated via the costly legal process.

My neighbors went as far as to contact VRBO, which ultimately put me out of the short-term rental business. Meanwhile, my neighbors continued to promote competing properties that were also in violation and are still in violation today.

Additionally, I still found myself exclusively pursued by Killington’s town manager and zoning board in what feels like a strategic triangulated attack.

After two years, six-figures+ of financial impact, countless hours, and sleepless nights we have hit another wall. Despite the very best legal advice from Brooke Dingledine, VDM Law Barre, we find ourselves trapped by a loophole of what feels like systemic racism. Ultimately, this allows the town of Killington to selectively single out and target individuals. As a family of color we have been pinned down and immobilized by their targeting for the past two years.

Then this week, I find out that Killington issued a “Health Violation Order” about my septic system. Their evidence? None. But

I have evidence.

I believe the town of Killington is trying to support the false narrative they communicated to the Mountain Times and the community two years ago. They can use the local paper to tell a story that ultimately becomes the story of the town.

What if the story was about deliberate and systemic racism?

After 13 years owning this home as a white man, I had not a single complaint. I show up with my black wife, black father-in-law, and mixed-race kids for 30 days (first time ever), and my neighbor issues a complaint.

That’s the truth.

During that month we lived in Killington in 2018, my kids were visible on Estabrook Road, we are riding bikes around the neighborhood, we are using the Killington town pool later that summer.  We have arrived but we’re not welcome.

This has crippled us financially, emotionally, and spiritually. To say we are devastated is an understatement and we have exhausted all of our other viable options to resolve this with the town in a logical, reasonable way. We decided with very heavy hearts to list our home for sale 100% in response to the feeling of prejudice that surrounded us.

In conclusion, I ask: I’m one of 900+ homes that violate this two people per bedroom ordinance. Why are we the only family to receive this letter?

I’ve met all the guidelines for fire safety, waste water, and drinking water. I chose to pursue the town legally for selective enforcement because racial injustice is intolerable, I continue to fight this fight because I have to and I hope my efforts here lay the groundwork that this doesn’t happen to anybody else.

Vincent Connolly and Moriah Stokes

Morristown, Vermont

13 comments on “The penalty for being Black in Killington

  1. He has been violating neighborhood covenants and town regulations since 2005 and finally was held accountable. His wife’s race has nothing to do with the violations, his behavior did.

  2. The true irony is that Vin and his wife traveled the country for well over a year looking for the best spot to raise their outdoorsy and athletic family. Ultimately they chose Vermont, where they had met. For his wife, who was born and raised in Vermont, this was coming home. Vermont is where she graduated college, where her parents, siblings and their families live. If not racism or reverse ageism, does this boil down to simply driving out the competition?

  3. Natural Resources Board
    District #1 Environmental Commission
    440 Asa Bloomer State Office Bldg.
    Rutland, VT 05701
    December 13, 2018
    Jon Anderson
    Primmer Piper Eggleston & Cramer PC
    30 Main Street, Suite 500
    P.O. Box 1489
    Burlington, VT 05402-1489
    Subject: Jurisdictional Opinion #JO 1-392 – Vincent Connolly, 287 Estabrook Road,
    Killington, VT Cricket Hill Subdivision, Act 250 Permit Series #1R0096
    Dear Mr. Anderson:
    I write in response to your letter dated November 28, 2018 wherein you concluded that “Vince is
    not required to file for an Act 250 permit because he is not making a material change to his
    property because Vince does not propose to make a cognizable change at his property.”
    Pursuant to 10 V.S.A. § 6007, the statutory authority to determine whether Act 250 jurisdiction
    attaches to any given activity rests with the District Coordinator. Because you and your client
    elected to withdraw your request for such an opinion – embodied in Mr. Connolly’s October 23,
    2018 request for a Project Review Sheet – and you subsequently and categorically assert that
    Act 250 jurisdiction does not attach, I am obligated to issue the opinion which follows herein.
    I. Summary of Opinion
    Act 250 permit #1R0096, issued on February 22, 1973, approved a 16-lot residential subdivision
    in Killington, Vermont. The water supply and wastewater systems, as well as the roadway and
    parking networks, were approved based upon usage as typical three or four-bedroom private
    homes. Both the citizens and the District Commission relied upon the representations made in
    the application for that permit. Mr. Connolly has subsequently converted the use to a
    commercial rental for occupancy by up to 28 people. That change in use, with its attendant
    potential for significant adverse impacts under Act 250 criteria 1B, 5 and 9K, 8 and 10
    constitutes a material change for which an Act 250 permit amendment is required prior to
    continued use in this manner.
    II. Facts and Documents
    a. Vince Connolly owns property at 287 Estabrook Road.
    b. Project Review Sheet Dated 10/23/18 PIN# RU18-0284, (Withdrawn).
    c. Letter from Meredith Maskell, Drinking and Groundwater Protection, dated October 5,
    2018, 287 Estabrook Road Rental classified as a Public Transient Non-Community
    (TNC) drinking water system.
    JO #1-392
    Page 2
    802-786-5923 Telephone http://www.nrb.state.vt.us 802-786-5915 Fax
    d. Gmail from Vincent Connolly to Richard Horner, Town of Killington, October 12, 2108,
    regarding property and “Change of Use.”
    e. Fire Inspection Results from Vermont Department of Public Safety, Division of Fire
    Safety, Site ID 92007, classification of property as a “hotel,” Violations listed. Inspection
    Date 01/29/2014.
    f. Second Division of Fire Safety, Fire Inspection Results. Insp. Date. 12/12/2014.
    Violations Corrected.
    g. Notice of Alleged Violation (NOAV) Patrick Lowkes, Environmental Enforcement Officer,
    dated 10/08/18. Violation of Wastewater System and Potable Water Supply Rules –
    Permits Required.
    h. Letter from Richard Horner, Zoning Administrator, Town of Killington, dated August 2,
    2018. Violation of Zoning Bylaws. Property Dwelling Capacity for no more than 6
    i. Letter from Kevin Smith, Marble Valley Engineering, dated July 24, 2017, regarding 287
    Estabrook Road property. Property septic system is “overused.”
    III. Analysis
    The evidentiary standard in Act 250 is a “preponderance of the evidence.” That is a low bar
    compared to the higher “clear and convincing” or “beyond a reasonable doubt” standards.
    In this case and based upon my review of the facts and documents cited above, it is my
    opinion that Mr. Connolly’s conversion of a single-family home into a commercial rental for
    up to 28 occupants is so clearly a material change under Act 250 Rule 2(C)(6) that it rises to
    the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard.1
    That level of occupancy implicates Act 250
    criteria 1(B) with respect to potential adverse water supply and wastewater disposal, 5&9K
    with respect to traffic and parking impacts, 8 with respect to potential noise or other
    aesthetic impacts, and 10 with respect to conformance with the Killington Town Plan.

    IV. Conclusion
    The solicitation for and use of 287 Estabrook Road in Killington, Vermont as effectively a
    “hotel” (see Exhibit 002) for routine commercial occupancy is a material change to the Land
    Use permitted under permit #1R0096. Accordingly, continued use of the home in the
    manner described herein, requires an Act 250 permit amendment. Continuing use in this
    manner constitutes a continuing violation.

    V. Reconsideration or Appeal
    This is a jurisdictional opinion issued pursuant to 10 V.S.A. § 6007(c) and Act 250 Rule 3(B).
    Reconsideration requests are governed by Act 250 Rule 3(B) and should be directed to the
    district coordinator at the above address. Any appeal of this decision must be filed with the
    Superior Court, Environmental Division (32 Cherry Street, 2nd Floor, Ste. 303, Burlington, VT
    05401) within 30 days of the date the decision was issued, pursuant to 10 V.S.A. Chapter
    220. The Notice of Appeal must comply with the Vermont Rules for Environmental Court

    In the course of my meeting with Mr. Connolly on October 30, 2018, Mr. Connolly stated that he was obligated to
    spend “$60,000” on the retrofit of a building sprinkler system to meet Division of Fire & Safety (“the Division”)
    regulations. I further note that the Division characterized the use as a “Hotel” (see Exhibits #2 and #3).
    JO #1-392
    Page 3
    802-786-5923 Telephone http://www.nrb.state.vt.us 802-786-5915 Fax
    Proceedings (VRECP). The appellant must file with the Notice of Appeal the entry fee
    required by 32 V.S.A. § 1431(b)(1) (2015), which is $295.00. The appellant also must serve
    a copy of the Notice of Appeal on the Natural Resources Board, 10 Baldwin Street,
    Montpelier, VT 05633-3201, and on other parties in accordance with Rule 5(b)(4)(B) of the
    Vermont Rules for Environmental Court Proceedings.
    /s/ William Burke
    William Burke
    District Coordinator

    1. This is an outrage. How shameful that a family be punished for trying to attain the American Dream against such a beautiful backdrop. Just disgraceful Vermont!

  4. I know Whit Montgomery and have since he was a very small child. There is not a racist bone in his body. I dont care what color you are if you are loading up a house and your septic system can’t handle it fix it. It seems that what some people are saying here is that because the homeowner is of color we should turn a blind eye to his failing or overworked septic system, that ridiculous.

  5. I live with my mixed race kids between 2 racists in Brandon Vt. I have been run out of my home after having been evicted by their very racist grandfather and being homeless for 3 months. I worked very hard to reestablish a home for my 2 young daughters. Now I have a lease contract I cannot afford to break and can’t even live in my home. I pay the high end of rent in this town and it’s just ridiculous that I’m called a N**** lover and my kids are attacked in the street just for being black. They are 4&6 years old. Vermont is whitewashed to say the least. Someone even had the audacity to enter my apartment when we were not home to rip the Black Lives Matter sign my kids made out of the inside of my window.

    1. Your kids should not be harassed but as to the burning loot moron sign it’s a symbol of domestic terrorism and as such should not be on display where the public is forced to see it.

    2. Hello Jeannine,

      Your story hit my soul! I hear you and I feel for your children. It’s hard enough raising kids and keeping them safe.

      Please contact Michelle Lord, my agent at Ski Country Real Estate to get my information. If you want to get out of this lease I can help.

      Please know that you have options, you are not alone.

      Vincent and Moriah

  6. Might want to get a full perspective on this story. Here is a story in the same issue regarding this case.

    Battle over Estabrook Road rental
    By Curt Peterson

    On Dec. 1 the Killington board of health voted unanimously to pursue a public health order (PHO) regarding an alleged septic system failure 287 Estabrook Road, a short-term rental property belonging to Killington Mountain House LLC (KMH) and Vincent Connolly. A Dec. 15 public hearing will determine whether the PHO will be served.

    The PHO would prohibit occupancy until “a wastewater system and potable water supply permit is obtained from the Vermont Dept. of Environmental Conservation.”

    Connolly provided a report from SepticPro of Brattleboro citing a Sept. 29 inspection, which said, “We found that the system was not in failure and operating in accordance with the state regulatory standards.”

    If the PHO is issued, KMH will have 30 days to appeal to the state board of health. In the meantime, Connolly said the property is not advertised for rent and a new five-bedroom septic system is going to be installed.

    Killington town Health Officer Preston Bristow said he received SepticPro’s inspection report, and spoke with Stephen Pro, owner of SepticPro for clarification.

    “Stephen Pro told me he rated the system as ‘poor’ and that is why [Connolly is] replacing it. He told me there was pooling of water around the septic tank, which is not technically a failure, but I would still consider a [health] risk. He also told me the system, while not technically failed, would need to be ‘babied’ until a replacement system was in place,” Bristow wrote in an email.

    “If he presents state certification that an acceptable five-bedroom wastewater system is installed, I will give him the permit for a five-bedroom home,” Bristow told the Mountain Times.

    Under the new short-term rental regulations the five-bedroom septic system would allow occupancy of “two persons per bedroom, plus two”, for a maximum of 12 persons.

    Issues involving this property are not new.

    Then Planning and Zoning Administrator Dick Horner cited Connelly for operating a commercial property in a residential zone in August 2018.

    Connolly feels his property has been singled out following his visible month-long 2018 presence at the site with his wife, who is Black, and their biracial children.

    “Two weeks [later] my neighbor began lodging complaints about my septic, the noise, and the safety of the home. All of this comes after 13 years of conducting business … without a single issue whatsoever,” Connelly wrote in an email.

    Montgomery was one of 15 neighbors named as complainants by the Environmental Court on Nov. 13, 2019.

    Connolly declared the three-bedroom home his primary residence when purchased in 2005, but immediately advertised it as a short-term, four-bedroom rental accommodating up to 32 occupants in 19 beds.

    Accommodations for 16 or more are categorized under the “hotel” category, according to the state, requiring sprinkler systems. Connolly installed sprinklers in 2014, but Horner said advertising the home for more than six occupants – two per bedroom – still violated the town’s residential zoning.

    Connolly said his high-capacity rental was legal, based on DFS certification of his sprinkler system.

    The Zoning board of adjustment upheld the violation. Connolly appealed to the state Environmental Court, arguing his rental was a “grandfathered” lawful pre-existing non-conforming use that he was renting prior to the occupancy limit imposition in 2007.

    The town argued that commercial use in 2005 without the necessary permit disqualified commercial use of the property as “lawful.”

    “Connolly did not undergo an inspection or obtain a public building permit until after Jan. 29, 2014,” the court wrote.

    On Nov. 13, 2019 the Environmental Court noted KMH has consistently claimed “commercial use” on tax forms, and upheld the town’s zoning violation accusation.

    Connolly avers discrimination is the root of the town’s actions. The environmental court has suggested he revise the questions for the town and the court to clarify those claims, and will set a hearing of the amendments after Dec. 7.

    Police Chief Whit Montgomery, one of Connolly’s neighbors, called Connolly’s suspicions of racial motivations for complaints about the KMH property “concerning, disturbing” and “blatently false.”

    Connolly said he would like to keep the house to rent as a legal five-bedroom, but his wife and children disagree. He has listed it for sale.

    “This has crippled us financially, emotionally, and spiritually. We have exhausted all … viable options to resolve this with the town in a logical, reasonable way. We decided with very heavy hearts to list our home for sale 100% in response to the feelings of prejudice that surrounded us,” he wrote.

  7. There is a similar case that happened in Mendon on Journeys End Road. One person of color was viciously and mercilessly attacked by neighbors until he too ended up having to sell. I was a guest in his home for part of this and witnessed it firsthand. As a white woman, I was even invited to a neighborhood get together and then asked if I was buying the house from the (insert racist word I won’t use). I promptly left.
    People say that Vermont isn’t racist. I have not found that to be true. I have found there is a much smaller population of diversity here and that when confronted with it, many people that claim they are not racist have actually simply just never lived in diverse neighborhoods. Vermont is as whitewashed as it comes.

    1. Me too. My husband is black and our son, 11 m/old, is biracial. I’m always asked how am I going to prepare my son for life in today’s society… I never can answer. I hope to raise him to be kind to everyone and to help when he can.
      Anything we can do to help. Please please let me know.

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