Town details Eco Village violations

  • The now-vacant Walden Eco Village in Peterborough. Staff photo by Ben Conant

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 4/28/2021 2:56:07 PM

The Town of Peterborough sent a detailed list of violations found on the Walden Eco Village property in December to Akhil Garland, trustee of the Garland Family Realty Trust, last week.

The letter, dated April 20, summarizes the findings of the town’s Building Code Enforcement Officer and Fire Inspector, and the State’s electrical inspectors. The Town was able to compile the letter after receiving the state’s final investigation report last month, Town Administrator Nicole MacStay said.

Garland received preliminary notice of the violations in December, when the town inspected the property and found safety and code violations on site, including missing building permits for eight of 15 total rental units, and permitted structures being used beyond their intended purpose. The town conducted a walk-through of the property around Thanksgiving as part of a subdivision proposal, and noticed unpermitted structures with electrical and propane connections, which prompted the December inspection, as previously reported. Garland received a cease-and-desist order at that point, and the site’s 25 tenants were evicted on five day’s notice. A lawsuit involving former tenants, Garland and his related companies, and the Town of Peterborough is ongoing. This letter will be filed in court later this week, MacStay said.

Conditions on the Walden Eco Village site violated Peterborough’s town code, zoning ordinance, and site plan review process. They also violate state regulations involving building, electric, and fire code, and minimum housing standards as well as sewage disposal systems. Finally, the conditions found on site in December violated the conditions of the property’s 2006 Special Exception, 2007 Minor Site Plan Approval, 2010 variance approval, and wetlands permits, according to the letter.

Some of the listed violations have been discussed at length in public meetings and hearings, and others have received less attention. Violations include: building nine small cabins without permits and connecting all 15 rentals to electricity and propane without permits, building more dwellings than allowed on a Rural Zone parcel, converting an approved cabin to a community kitchen, bathroom, and laundry space without approval, and renting units that don’t qualify as dwellings under the town’s Zoning Ordinance, according to the letter.

The site’s septic system was approved to accommodate seven temporary units, but wound up serving for 15 permanent units, a violation of RSA 485-A:38, which requires an application for approval before increasing the load to an existing sewage disposal system, according to the letter.

The roads on the site are being used beyond their original approved uses (“logging roads proposed to be upgraded only to allow for emergency vehicle access”). The buildings were no longer exclusively serving as staff housing for The Well School, as dictated by a 2010 variance, and there are apparently three wetland crossings which never received approval, although other crossings on the site had been approved, according to the letter.

Inspection of the wiring both within and between buildings turned up several electrical code violations that posed a threat for people and the buildings themselves, according to the letter. Violations include PVC conduit running along the ground between buildings with exposed conductors, and other setups that don’t meet state specifications.

Fire code does not allow for extension cords to provide permanent power, according to the letter, and improperly installed propane heating systems discovered on site provided further violations. Officials locked out power and propane to the site following the mass eviction in December.

Peterborough is giving Garland until September to apply for a variance from the ZBA to allow continued use of the property, while keeping the buildings unoccupied in the meantime, or face misdemeanor charges and fines under state statute. If the variance is granted, Garland must apply for a site plan review, Conditional Use Permit, and building permits for the structures, the non-conforming use, and for the additional buildings Garland has proposed for a subdivision of the site, according to the letter. The Town determined that a September deadline allowed an adequate timeline for addressing all the required actions, MacStay said. The buildings are currently unoccupied, to the best of the town’s knowledge, she said.

Garland said he had not yet received the document when the Ledger-Transcript asked him about it on Monday.


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