Circus Smirkus zoning permit is appealed

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Brin Schoellkopf hovers above the tight wire.
Brin Schoellkopf hovers above the tight wire, in a Circus Smirkus show.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

by Bethany M. Dunbar

copyright the Chronicle November 20, 2013

GREENSBORO — Circus Smirkus’ local zoning permit, which allows it to move its camp to Greensboro Village, has been appealed to Vermont Environmental Court.

No trial or hearing dates were set after a telephone conference Monday because the project will also need an Act 250 permit.

Once that permit application is filed, the Act 250 case and the local zoning case will most likely move forward in a bundle, according to Mark Hall, the lawyer representing the circus.

Meanwhile, the show must go on — and so must the camp.  It will, in Burke.

“We’re definitely going to be at Burke Mountain Academy for 2014,” said Ed Leclair, the executive director of Circus Smirkus.  He said he does not know how long the permit process will take.

The Greensboro Development Review Board held a hearing on the permit on June 19, 2013.  Minutes of the hearing are posted on the town’s website.

According to the minutes, Mr. Leclair explained the project at the hearing.

Circus Smirkus will still have its Big Top Tour, which is headquartered on the Bayley Hazen Road in Greensboro and will stay there.  It also has an artist in residence program, which sends staff out to educational facilities to teach circus skills to the children.  The third program is Smirkus Camp, which was the subject of the hearing.

The camp is for children ages six to 16 and involves a total of 122 people — 84 campers and 38 staff, according to the minutes.  It says the numbers are dictated by the septic capacity of the land.

Circus Smirkus has been renting facilities for 23 years in colleges and residential schools, the minutes say, and the circus does not always get priority for these spaces.  In order to better control the facilities and schedules, the plan is to build the camp facilities at 409 and 421 Breezy Avenue, near the Lakeview Inn.

“The existing house will be used as an administration building and house no more than six staff people in the summer and probably one caretaker in the winter.  The barn will become the dining hall, and the connector between the house and barn will become the kitchen,” the minutes say.  They say plans call for building two new dorms and a balance pavilion.

“In the present plan a little over 21 of the 33 plus acres would be put into a conservation easement through the Greensboro Land Trust,” say the minutes.  “To accommodate the neighbors, there will be a no play zone behind the two camps on the north side, a privacy fence, a sound wall in the dining hall,” and other accommodations.

“The planned dorms will be one story tall and are evocative of both a circus tent and a campfire,” say the minutes.  They will be 20 feet high with smaller cupolas that will extend their height to 30 feet.  The highest cupola would be 36 feet high.

The minutes say the circus has approval from the local fire department, has a mound septic system planned, and low, solar path lighting, and has done a noise impact study.

The noise study tried to estimate a worst case scenario for circus noise:  “Loud music from the tents, kids playing and screaming, kids in the dining hall and the kitchen vent fan running, all occurring simultaneously.”  The noise study showed this noise would be about 55 decibels, about the same as an idling car 50 feet away.

The minutes briefly outline comments from 20 residents on the day of the hearing, and eight letters received by the DRB.  Of the 20 people who spoke, one person was opposed and 16 were in favor.  Of the eight letters, five were opposed.

Tom Woodward was listed as opposed due to traffic concerns, and he said the camp “is out of character of our small farming village and summer community.”

Among those in favor were parents whose children had attended the camp.  Selectman Bridget Collier’s comments were paraphrased:  “Greensboro is not a museum.  This is a new century and millennium and the town must change with it.”

Sally Lonegren said she supported the camp and said kids are being taught “responsibility, creativity, motivation, honor and polite ways of being with each other and their community and the world needs this.”

The property under discussion is the Lonegren family property.

Mateo Kehler is quoted in the minutes as saying, “Circus Smirkus is a jewel and a gift to our community…  The positive economic ramifications cannot be overstated.”

He said about 70 families will come in and need places to stay, eat, and do other vacation activities.

Kathy Unser, who restored the Lakeview Inn, said she feels the community “runs the risk of becoming sterile” if too many activities are restricted.  She supports Circus Smirkus.

Cathy Donnelly, current owner of the Lakeview Inn, also supports the circus project.

Rob Hurst of the Willey’s Store said he can’t think of a better use for the property.

Among the opponents listed in the minutes are Sara and Sheila Dillon, who said they are concerned the camp would be “inconsistent with the cultivation of Greensboro’s unique, small scale beauty.  They feel that it is a large, out of scale development right in the village.  The very large parking lot would be in full view of Breezy Ave. as would the dormitories and tents.”  They also voiced concerns about traffic, noise, and pollution.

The Dillons are among those who have filed an appeal to the local zoning decision, which allows the project a conditional use permit.  There are two groups appealing.  Sarah and Sheila Dillon, Laurence Hewes III and Laurence Hewes IV, Mary C. Hewes, Mary C.D. Hewes, Patrick Hewes, Thomas and Barbara Woodward, Lucile Brink and C. Diane Irish are listed as landowners and voters of Greensboro and are represented by Paul Gillies.

Their appeal says the opponents are concerned about the impacts on roads, noise, and safety of the town.

Another group — Sarah Williams, Rachel Williams and Susan Williams, Connie Peterson, Lynn and Bruce Holbein — are listed as owners of property in the immediate neighborhood of the Breezy Avenue property under discussion.  Their appeal says the local decision “will not be in accord with the policies, purposes or terms of the plan and bylaw of the town.”

Attempts to contact opponents on Tuesday were not successful.

contact Bethany M. Dunbar at [email protected]

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