Meeting House occupancy limit waived

ROCKINGHAM — The Rockingham Meeting House is a historical landmark frequently complimented for its old-timey charm and beauty, but Select Board members expressed their worry about the structural integrity of the centuries-old building at a meeting on Nov. 21.

Ray Massucco, a founder of the annual music festival, Roots on the River, utilizes the Meeting House for concerts. He usually is able to invite 300 people but before the 2017 festival, which was held June 11, the Select Board denied Massucco's request to waive the 200 person occupancy limit and allow 300 people. Instead, the board agreed to let Massucco host 250 people in the Meeting House, which was built between 1787 and 1801. The request came to the Select Board a week before the date of the festival.

"Usually this is an administrative matter," Massucco said, but Municipal Manager Shane O'Keefe felt it was necessary to ask for the Select Board's input.

For the 2018 festival, Massucco made sure to come to the board months ahead of time. He requested that the occupancy limit be waived again, this time to allow 300 people. He thought the lower limit would impede his ability to bring tourists to Rockingham. He started off his request with a poem that one of the artists who played at the festival wrote about the Meeting House.

"There's a house upon a hill, once a church and holy still," the poem starts.

Massucco, who is also the town's attorney, said festival-goers love the building and more people should be allowed to enjoy it.

"We ask you to consider how well we've done by this building," he said. "Folks really enjoy going here, we want to have it enjoyed by all."

Select Board members tried to explain to Massucco why they made the decision to limit the Meeting House occupancy last year.

"You make it sound like the Select Board made this decision arbitrarily," Select Board member Ann DiBernardo said.

Board members worried because the town policy for Meeting House occupancy is at 200 people.

"I was the fire marshal last year and I can assure you there were no issues," O'Keefe said to the board. However, he recommended a fire marshal come and inspect the building. The town does have a grant, O'Keefe said, that will pay for an architect to inspect the building.

Select Board Chair Susan Hammond said she was concerned about the village's insurance policy and whether or not the Select Board would have to cough up town funds if a disaster were to strike.

Massucco brought with him multiple festival volunteers in support of his request and several letters from people who had attended the festival, praising both the event and the venue.

Eventually, the Select Board resolved to grant Massucco's request with the stipulation that the Vermont Fire Marshall may deny it.

Other business

In other news, Select Board member Gaetano Putignano and his wife, Brady, made a request to discontinue part of Keefe Road. Putignano lives on the road. He said the part he wishes to discontinue isn't maintained by the town. He maintains it. He also said not many people live there. The part where the road is plowed ends at Putignano's house.

"Police don't patrol it," he said. He wants to decrease access for people looking to engage in illegal activities. Putignano said he doesn't wish to limit access to anyone who owns property on the road.

Though the town doesn't currently maintain the road, O'Keefe said it needs access to address storm water issues or to get there in case of an emergency. Putignano said he had no intention of limiting access to the town.

O'Keefe was still wary of the project.

"To what degree does the town contribute to this process and the costs related to it?" he asked. "I'm not interested, necessarily, in staff spending too much time on that."

Ellen Howard, a former zoning administrator, said that traditionally research and planning has been a town duty.

Town Planner Chuck Wise would initiate the planning and research to discontinue the road.

Putignano said he would have done the planning or hired a lawyer, but that town staff had told him they would handle it.

Wise recommended that the abutters meet informally to hash out their plans. The Select Board approved the motion to begin research into discontinuing the road.

Harmony Birch can be reached at, at @Birchharmony on Twitter and 802-254-2311, Ext. 153.


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