Some Sandwich residents are closely watching the Town of Canton’s efforts to close down an aerial adventure park.
The building inspector in that town recently ordered zip-line operators—TreeTop Adventures—to either cease operations or obtain permission from the zoning board of appeals to stay open at its current unlicensed address.
“It appears your application states the ropes course will be located at 200 New Boston Drive in a Limited Industrial Zoned District,” Canton Building Inspector Edward T. Walsh wrote in a letter to TreeTop. “Your ropes course is actually located in a Single Residence District.”
Mr. Walsh said a special permit is required for a business to operate within a residential district.
“The Zoning Board of Appeals did not grant you a variance to operate a ropes course in a Single Residence District,” Mr. Walsh wrote. “It appears your ropes course, TreeTop Adventures, is violating the Town of Canton Zoning By-Laws.”
Mr. Walsh said the aerial park operators have 30 days to appeal the cease and desist order to the ZBA. The letter was issued on June 29.
The Canton inspector’s order was cheered this week by Sandwich residents who would like to see a similar zip-line operation at Heritage Museums & Gardens closed down or moved farther away from their homes. The residents maintain that the zip-line is operating illegally because the address on the building permit differs from its actual site.
“It’s the same, exact situation as we have in Sandwich. The zip-line operators gave an incorrect address so they would not have to notify abutters,” said Carlo DiPersio, who lives near the Heritage zip-line. “The Canton building inspector and zoning board are doing their job.”
Canton resident Edward Tasi, whose home is less than 80 feet from the TreeTop Adventures, said this week he was gratified by Mr. Walsh’s action. He added that his spirits have also been buoyed by his neighbors, and town officials, who have spoken out against the zip-line in recent weeks.
“I’m not sure what changed, but I feel like the town is now on my side,” Mr. Tasi said. “I have a new land attorney, and there are new selectmen, and I feel like they understand what’s going on in my neighborhood.”
At a dramatic Canton ZBA meeting late last month, neighbors, two selectmen and two members of the zoning board spoke out against TreeTop and said they would work to rectify the situation.
“I have to say I feel for the abutters,” ZBA member Gregory L. Panco said. “If I lived there, I’d be pretty upset myself.”
The meeting, which was videotaped, was held to determine whether to extend a special permit to allow TreeTop staff to use a trailer on the site as its office. The board voted to allow the trailer to remain until the larger issues about the theme park have been settled.
TreeTop owner Christopher Kerr testified at the meeting that he and his wife, Molly, have their life savings wrapped up in the theme park. The couple hired the best and safest builders and thought they had found the perfect spot, he said.
Mr. Kerr said he has a 20-year lease and cannot leave the Irish Cultural Centre campus. He added that he had taken steps to appease the neighbors—such as closing earlier at night, lowering the decibel level and erecting a shield to cut down on light pollution.
Mr. Tasi also spoke, reiterating that the aerial adventure park operates seven days a week from 8 AM to 9:30 PM some 73 feet from the house where he has lived all his life.
At night, klieg lights illuminate cables running through the forest and shine directly into Mr. Tasi’s windows; music booms from massive speakers, people scream; and traffic crawls through his once-quiet neighborhood.
Although Sandwich residents have similar complaints about noise and traffic, the situation seems less acute because the Heritage zip-line is farther from nearby homes. Also, the park at Heritage does not feature lights or music and is only open during daylight hours.
Canton Selectmen Thomas W. Theodore and Kevin T. Feeney spoke against granting an extension of the permit for the trailer.
“I’m here to demonstrate that the board of selectmen is very concerned, as are members of other boards, as is the police department,” Mr. Feeney said, adding that the town is investigating the matter.
Mr. Tasi last fall filed a lawsuit in superior court against the Irish Cultural Centre, the nonprofit organization that hosts the zip-line, and the Canton zoning board, for failing to notify him of a public hearing held on whether the aerial amusement park should be allowed to operate in the area.
The lawsuit also says TreeTop Adventures used an incorrect address in its application for a special permit from the Canton ZBA.
Mr. DiPersio, who has become friends with Mr. Tasi, believes there is a strong connection between the Sandwich and Canton cases. TreeTop Adventures is in partnership with the company that runs the zip-line at Heritage, Outdoor Ventures Group, according to its website.
In both towns, nonprofit organizations serve as hosts to the aerial adventure parks, and in both cases the builder was Outdoor Ventures Group of Fairfield, Connecticut. Also in both towns, neighbors have filed suit to stop the noise and traffic the aerial parks generate.
Town officials in Canton and Sandwich have declined comment, citing pending litigation. Heritage has also declined to comment.
A Barnstable Superior Court judge ruled last fall that a group of neighbors fighting Heritage’s zip-line that the residents’ case against Heritage could proceed to trial.
That trial is tentatively scheduled to begin in October, according to court documents.
The neighbors are expected to claim their property values have fallen as a result of Heritage’s opening an aerial adventure exhibit that they say has drawn noise and traffic to their quiet, historic neighborhood.
Experts for both sides are expected to discuss the level of the noise and how it is measured. Also expected to be aired at trial is an argument about whether neighbors were given proper notice of meetings and a site visit.
The lawsuit was filed by attorney Peter L. Mello in November 2014.
The plaintiffs are suing Heritage Plantation of Sandwich Inc.; the Town of Sandwich; Paul D. Spiro, the town’s building inspector; and all six members of the ZBA.
Heritage considers the aerial park educational. In a filing, the corporation states that “Like many exhibits at the museum the proposed exhibit is multifaceted, as it includes trails at ground level, above ground, and trails of varying levels of difficulty in the tree canopy, and training and educational components that incorporate the museum’s history.”
Anthony Wellman, spokesman for Outdoor Ventures Group, said his company designed and built the Canton aerial park, but does not operate the park and had nothing to do with the permitting process. Outdoor Ventures Group built and operates the adventure park at Heritage but was not involved in seeking special zoning or permitting in Sandwich, Mr. Wellman said.
Heritage has said that the aerial exhibit has no features that are visible from public ways or spaces, and thus there was no requirement that the historic district notify the neighbors.
The findings of the Canton building inspector—and more testimony from all sides—will to be aired at a future ZBA hearing in that town. A date has not yet been set.