Walden Eco Village discussion to continue

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 11/8/2022 6:48:49 PM

The application for the Walden Eco Village subdivision will be addressed at a Peterborough Planning Board meeting Nov. 14.

Akhil Garland, the trustee for the Garland Family Realty Trust and Utopia Living, who owns and was the landlord of the Walden Eco Village prior to the removal of tenants in December 2020, is working with the town to create a lawful subdivision using some of the existing buildings on the property.

Earlier this year, Garland was granted a variance by the Peterborough Zoning Board to allow the Walden Eco Village to keep 10 of the 15 structures, which were built within the wetlands buffer. An application to subdivide the property, allowing 20 homes on quarter-acre lots, has been in front of the Planning Board since July of 2020, and is still ongoing.

Evictions and lawsuits

In December of 2020, Peterborough Code Enforcement Officer Timothy Herlihy and Fire Inspector Lt. Scott Symonds did an inspection of the entire property, and determined that 14 of the buildings were being rented as individual dwellings, and noted numerous violations of town code, zoning ordinance and site-plan review regulations. The structures were not properly permitted as permanent residences, and the town ordered the buildings be vacated. 

Fire Chief Ed Walker evicted the tenants from 16 homes in December 2020, and said the applicants need to take responsibility for the mass eviction. 

The tenants sued Garland for damages, including the obligation to obtain housing, return of all their deposits, moving expenses, towing expenses and storage fees, future rent in excess of that they were paying at the Eco Village and past rent paid for what was represented to be legal residential dwelling units.

In March 2021, the Town of Peterborough was added as a third-party defendant to the case, with the plaintiffs alleging the town was “unreasonable and unlawful” in issuing a cease-and-desist order with no prior notice, despite having longstanding knowledge of the property and the nature of the homes on it, and only providing five days for tenants to vacate, in the middle of the winter and amidst COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

Following a mediation session, Garland and the tenants settled out-of-court in June. The terms of the settlement are confidential.

In May, the Peterborough Zoning Board voted 3-2 to approve a variance to allow Walden Eco Village to keep 10 structures within the wetlands buffer. At that time, Planning Board member Sarah Steinberg Heller expressed concerns about the legitimacy of the project.

“To me, it shows a lack of vision for what needs to go on,” said Heller at the May meeting. “Please move forward and tell us you’re going to comply because it’s very alarming. I want this project to work, but it’s very frustrating.”

The Planning Board meeting Nov. 14 –  a continuance of a September meeting requested by Garland’s attorney – will address subdividing the current seven cottages and 13 new three-bedroom homes into quarter-acre lots.

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