By RUSSELL JONES
BRANDON — Over the past couple of weeks, a pending permit application by Brandon’s Barn Opera to move its location to the Sanderson Barn on Pearl Street has sparked some controversy.
At the heart of the controversy is concern from some nearby residents that a prospective increase in traffic, noise and activity caused by the new venue would be overly bothersome.
A public Act 250 hearing will be held at the Brandon Town Hall on Wednesday, Oct. 23 to go over the criteria for Barn Opera’s permit.
Here are the facts about the permit and the zoning laws that pertain to the permit.
• The Sanderson barn where the Barn Opera is proposing to move to is located in the Rural Development Zoning District, which falls under section 305 of the Brandon Land Use Ordinance (BLUO).
That section states that Rural Districts include those lands that have been determined to be unsuitable for extensive development because of their ecological or topographical characteristics, the unavailability or inadequacy of public infrastructure, or reduced growth-planning considerations. One of the uses allowed in such a zoned district includes those for community support and recreation, which is the permit that Barn Opera is applying for.
• According to the BLUO, the community support and recreation category includes all uses that are supportive of the residential community that may require large parking facilities. They provide space for recreation, hobbies, meetings, education, worship, and cultural activities. Examples of this use include churches, private and public meeting rooms, schools, and concert halls.
• This use would be listed as conditional. When any use is listed as conditional within a given district, the application for a land use permit may be approved only by the Development Review Board, which, in granting the permit, may add appropriate and reasonable conditions to insure compliance with the provisions of the ordinance.
• According to Edna Sutton, acting executive director of the Compass Music and Arts Foundation, the permit for Barn Opera would allow for 28 days of public occupancy each year.
Considering that there are three days of rehearsals before each performance, and two days of performances, that only leaves eight days of public occupancy for the rest of the year after the four regularly scheduled Barn Opera shows.
• In terms of environmental impact to the site, Barn Opera would be trucking out restroom waste so no sewer pipes need to be added; solar power would be supplying the barn, and parking surfaces would be a sophisticated environmentally-friendly turf that soaks in moisture to prevent runoff.
In terms of economic and cultural benefit for the town, Brandon economic development director Bill Moore said the town’s renaissance has been largely fueled by an increased private investment in the arts.
“There are secondary and tertiary economic effects aside from the quality of life improvements that are seen in communities in which the arts have been so enthusiastically supported,” Moore said. Without a doubt, he said, “people who come from out of town to experience our myriad of visual and performing arts offerings spend money in our stores, restaurants, inns, bars and lodging.”
“Barn Opera has been a welcome addition to this economic driver,” he added. “The prospect of them being able to draw more people to our beautiful town only helps to increase our economic and social vitality.”
REASON TO MOVE
Barn Opera began two years ago as a project of the Compass Music and Arts Foundation. Operating out of the Brandon Music venue, they offered four shows a year with two performances each. However, the venue only holds 50 guests and Barn Opera found they needed to expand.
After searching all over the county, a suitable location was found at the old Sanderson barn, which would double the seating for each show. Barn Opera is now going through the Act 250 process and hopes to be up and running at the new location this spring.
“I think it brings a certain ‘prestige’ wherever opera is held, but in a small town in Vermont is a true coup,” said Brandon Area Chamber of Commerce executive director Bernie Carr. He added that the influx of visitors for the shows helps local businesses.
“I’m sure it’s much like a wedding in town; the extra folks out and about will buy meals and shop the stores. They take in the beauty, ambiance and atmosphere that is an authentic New England village, and that can lead to return visits, home purchases and business start-ups.”
Brandon residents interested in learning more or letting the Development Review Board know how they feel about the project may attend the meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 23 at 7 p.m.