Bennington, youth camp square off again over noise complaints

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BENNINGTON — The town and the operators of a summer camp for youth on the former Southern Vermont College campus are scheduled to face off again Thursday in Bennington Superior Court Civil Division.

The town now seeks to withdraw from a court-stipulated agreement with the camp ownership to end noise complaint issues that was approved by the court July 23.

Merrill Bent, of Woolmington, Campbell, Bent & Stasny, representing the town, said in her recent motion that the town wants to withdraw from the agreement due to continued noise complaints. The town "requests that the court hold the defendants' breach of that agreement in contempt of a temporary restraining order entered on July 15," she wrote.

Camp director Moshe Perlstein and Camp Southern Vermont, LLC, an Orthodox Jewish camp organization for youth from the New Jersey-New York City area, are named in the town's suit.

The Vermont-based limited-liability company has replaced Zichron Chaim Inc., which formerly was listed as the camp's operator.

Reached on Tuesday afternoon, Perlstein acknowledged there was noise on Saturday, but he attributed that to one group of campers leaving on buses prior to the arrival of a second group the following day. He said the camp still intends to keep to the terms of the agreement reached with the town on the 23rd.

The camp opened July 5 with about 350 girl campers staying on the 371-acre former college campus, and a second camp group — this time with a similar number of boys — replaced the girls on Sunday. Both camps were scheduled to last for three weeks.

Motion for contempt

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However, the town now seeks a court order to shut down camp activities on the site.

"The town withdraws from the stipulated agreement and renews its motion for contempt," Bent wrote in a motion filed Monday. "Each defendant should be held separately in contempt. It is clear that defendants will not adhere to any obligation imposed on them — whether by this court's order or by contract."

She added that the town "requests that the court issue an order forbidding the defendants from conducting any summer camp activities on the property, effectively immediately, and order defendants to pay the town the expenses of suit, including its attorneys' fees."

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In her motion, Bent said that on July 25, "just three days after signing the agreement, the defendants violated it in astonishing fashion."

A number of residents living around the campus have cited repeated loud electronically amplified music and voices, including after 9 p.m., the latest hour allowed in the temporary restraining order issued July 15 by the court.

"Beginning at 10 p.m., the noise from the campus was at levels that far exceeded the parties' agreement, the town [noise] ordinance, and the court's July 15 order," Bent wrote in her motion.

Will 'solve it'

But Perlstein said the camp has every intention of resolving the noise complaints.

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"There was noise Saturday night when the children went home," he said. "We put plans in place but unfortunately it didn't work out."

He said, however, that after meeting state and local requirements for social distancing because of the COVID-19 epidemic and resolving building code issues in the former college buildings being used, "we have only that one issue left, and that also will be taken care of."

To eliminate noise reaching the neighbors, Perlstein said the camp is installing required air conditioning in the SVC gymnasium to allow assemblies there, rather than in a large tent on the property.

"So far the boys have not made any noise, and there haven't been any complaints," he said.

It is still his intent to follow through on a lease and purchase agreement the camp reached with the former SVC board of trustees in June, Perlstein said, and his goal is to resolve the complaints of neighbors and create a permanent camp area on the campus.

The stipulated agreement reached last week also required the camp to move all assemblies into the gymnasium by July 29.

Jim Therrien writes for New England Newspapers in Southern Vermont, including the Bennington Banner, Brattleboro Reformer and Manchester Journal. Twitter: @BB_therrien


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