Vermont Man Causes Controversy Over One-Finger Salute To City Officials

Facebook: Ted Pelkey

We previously discussed the sometimes thin line between free speech and a nuisance.  The latest such controversy has arisen in Westford, Vermont where Ted Pelkey decided to make a statement after city officials refused his permit to build an 8,000 square foot garage on his property. His response was a single finger salute to  the Westford Selectboard and Development Review Board.  This is not the first such salute piece to prompt legal questions over its display.  Notably, the Vermont Supreme Court recently ruled that ugly is not a nuisance.

Pelkey constructed the monument out of a 700 pound block pine and spent $4,000 to place it atop a 16-foot pole.  While vulgar, this is a type of aesthetic nuisance, which courts generally do not enjoin.  As noted in 81 N.Y. Jur. 2d Nuisances § 17 “Things merely disagreeable, however, which simply displease the eye or offend the taste, or shock an oversensitive or fastidious nature, no matter how irritating or unpleasant, are not nuisances.”  In one of the earliest such cases out of Oklahoma, the court observed in Bixby v. Cravens that landowners are “not compelled to consult the ‘aesthetic tastes’ of their neighbors as to the kind of fence they should build or whether the smooth or rough side thereof faced in or out, or as to the color of the paint they should use thereon.”

Pelkey can also argue that this is political speech in its rawest form.  I seriously hate it but the question remains one of free speech and what standard would apply if towns could start to distinguish between forms of speech.

What do you think?

13 thoughts on “Vermont Man Causes Controversy Over One-Finger Salute To City Officials”

  1. The government enjoys the proceeds from the sale of the property, the property taxes, and all other taxes and assessments levied upon homeowners, and then they interfere with him building a garage on his own property. I can certainly understand his ire. I don’t agree with vulgar displays like that, because kids see it, but he did succeed in brining national attention to the matter. I’m not a lawyer, and so do not have an opinion on the legal merits. It’s ironic that in modern times, our language has eroded with the use of emojis and text abbreviations. Seems apropos of the times that he would employ a graphic symbol to express his displeasure.

    1. Karen, the ‘garage’ was to be 8000 sq feet in size (unless the moderator misplaced a decimal point). That’s s two story structure with apartments or storage up top and about 17 bays below. The sort of garage Jay Leno might have. It’s a reasonable inference that the zoning board told him he wasn’t free to run a limo business on his residential street.

      Aha, here it is:

      “With the exception, Pelkey says, of the Westford Selectboard, Development Review Board, and other town leaders, who have blocked his efforts to get a permit to build the 8,000-square-foot garage, so he could move his truck repair and monofilament recycling businesses in nearby Swanton to his own property.”

      https://www.google.com/maps/uv?hl=en&pb=!1s0x4cca1e7a4038b273:0xb972cd92a582af0f!2m22!2m2!1i80!2i80!3m1!2i20!16m16!1b1!2m2!1m1!1e1!2m2!1m1!1e3!2m2!1m1!1e5!2m2!1m1!1e4!2m2!1m1!1e6!3m1!7e115!4s/maps/place/teds%2Btruck%2Band%2Btrailer%2Brepair%2Bswanton%2Bvt/@44.9164929,-73.1100708,3a,75y,260.23h,90t/data%3D*213m4*211e1*213m2*211szKy5qB3MCEsIQurdMFSx8Q*212e0*214m2*213m1*211s0x4cca1e7a4038b273:0xb972cd92a582af0f!5steds+truck+and+trailer+repair+swanton+vt+-+Google+Search&imagekey=!1e2!2szKy5qB3MCEsIQurdMFSx8Q&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjatb25iJvfAhWmq1kKHSgIC44Qpx8wCnoECAQQBg

    2. His current business digs are in Swanton, Vt, on the outskirts of the built up area. Westford Vt. is a rural township with only a small cluster of buildings. My wager is that they’re using process issues to block him (which they shouldn’t do) when the substantive issue is that they just don’t want his business in the township due to potential nuisances or due to a personal grudge. He’s irritated about the commute. It’d have been simpler for him to have sold his home and moved to Swanton.

    3. I have an old address for him. He once lived and may still live at 12 Pine Circle, Westford, Vt. Note the name of the street. If he still lives there, it’s a reasonable wager he has neighbors who might have a complaint about their modest residential strip being home to a commercial business which doesn’t put up much of a front.

  2. My brother was residing his house two years ago. He has some very irritating neighbors, likely with some sort of brain problem like OCD, or excessive narcissism whereby everyone is expected to cater to their demands and they are unwilling to consider things from anyone else’s point of view.

    Anyway, he didn’t take his ladder down one evening, and his neighbor came over, breathed alcohol all over him, and complained that she didn’t want to look out her window and see his ladder.

    He took it down for the evening to placate her at that time, and over the course of the next few days finished siding his house, EXCEPT in about a one-square-yard size area, facing the OCD neighbors, he left his house unsided for the winter, moreover with Tyvec insulation flapping in the wind.

    Yes, he did it on purpose, just to irritate them.

    When spring rolled around he took a couple hours and then finished the job off.

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