Truc’s vs. Foundry soap opera continues at contentious public hearing
West Stockbridge — At one point during the second public hearing over The Foundry’s application for a special permit on Monday, November 7, Truc’s Orient Express Restaurant co-owner Truc Nguyen started to cry during her public comments. At another point, during her response to a public comment criticizing the Planning Board, Chairperson Dana Bixby loudly slammed a stack of paperwork against a table.
And at several points during the public hearing, a few residents asked if a compromise could be made between the owners of The Foundery and Truc’s Orient Express Restaurant. However, after the second contentious public hearing, it appeared that any kind of compromise between the two neighboring businesses seemed to be impossible.
The November 7 hearing, which was held in the gymnasium of the Town Office building, was a continuation of the first public hearing on November 1.
The Foundry is a performing arts venue that opened in March 2019 at 2 Harris Street and is owned by Richmond resident Amy Brentano. Right next door to The Foundry is Truc’s Orient Express Restaurant co-owned by Truc Nguyen and Trai Thi Duong.
Towards the beginning of the hearing, Brentano re-stated to the audience of over 60 residents what she is requesting in the special permit. Brentano said she requests that the board allows The Foundry to hold up to 10 outdoor events on a green that is located on the side of the building from May through October. She said that the outdoor events would be completed by 9:30 p.m.
Brentano also requests that the town allow The Foundry to allow performers on the patio bar “with no drums permitted, performing on days when there are no other mainstream events” with performances completed by 9:30 p.m.
She also requests that the town allows for live indoor entertainment seven days a week in The Foundry building, with amplification, and performances finished by 10 p.m. “I’ve just wanted to reiterate that, in order to be a reasonable community business and neighbor, we are taking steps when it comes to parking,” Brentano said. “We have taken steps when it comes to crowd and parking control.”
Brentano said that her statements were all part of a written addition to her special permit application to the board. Chairperson Bixby did not say when Brentano submitted the addition to the application, and a copy of the addition was not available at press time.
“[In addition] I make note of the fact that, if a patron parked at the post office, we encourage the Police Department to ticket or fine the patron rather than coming to us to interrupt our performance to say there’s someone not following all the rules that you put out there,” Brentano said. “If you purchase a ticket on Eventbrite, we send you an explicit email about where not to park. We appreciate that the Police Department has made the effort to come to us to say we don’t want to have to ticket your patrons. But at this point, we’ve done so much to inform our patrons of where to park that if they’re going to be stupid, they should get a ticket.”
In her comments, Brentano also touched upon the sound levels of performances at The Foundry. “Although outdoor performances were permitted [in the previous special permit] we had to move them indoors, with the doors and windows sealed,” she said. “Or, we had to cancel them completely because of the low decibel level restriction. It proved to be too difficult to monitor without dispute, and there was no way we could comply with our special permit last year of 60 decibels at our property line if we had any kind of outdoor performance. This caused extreme financial hardship from the loss of audience numbers and canceled shows, but we did it because we agreed to it.”
Brentano added that “we consider ourselves to be good neighbors.”
However, during their public comments, neither Nguyen nor her attorney Mitch Greenwald from Pittsfield agreed with Brentano’s representation of being a good neighbor. “This entertainment venue contains outdoor performances containing very objectionable noise, and indoor noise, which escapes the building,” Greenwald said. “We have heard about the different steps that have been taken to control the sound which is well and good, but they haven’t done the job. The sound still escapes.”
Greenwald told the board that, as part of the special permit process, its members needed to determine whether or not granting the permit would be detrimental to abutting property owners, which he referred to as “adjacent uses.”
“I’ve noticed that almost every speaker [from the public] and almost every letter submitted have all talked about how good a place The Foundry is and how much it enriches the community,” Greenwald said. “Fine. I’m not going to quarrel with that. But none of them talk about whether it’s detrimental to adjacent uses. [Does the board] think that the reports of noise from that place are honest? Or you don’t think that they’re detrimental to the Nguyen family or the restaurant? So, no matter how many 1,000 people think it’s nice to have an entertainment venue and people from New York, including famous actors, it doesn’t matter.”
Greenwald added that “anybody on the abutter’s list is adjacent” to The Foundry property, and that Truc’s Orient Express is approximately 50 to 60 feet away from The Foundry “and you can’t get much more adjacent than that.”
“We all have a right to enjoy our homes in peace without noise nuisances,” Nguyen said during her public comments. “Yet, we continue to suffer at the hands of those who choose not to take accountability for their decisions. We thought this was settled with conditions attached to The Foundry’s special permit last year, but this is not the case … Since February, I have been begging to be heard that certain performances with amplified bass and drums are hurting, harming, and detrimental to me. If we’re talking about feelings, I feel the music. Two or more continuous hours of amplified bass and drums droning on and on and on and on.”
Nguyen said that the town’s zoning rules have not been enforced in the situation. “Many in this room speak of diversity and of giving voice to the voiceless and disenfranchised while overlooking my concerns and my real experience of being hurt by a neighbor in business,” she said. “How much longer do I have to endure or does my voice not count? The gaslighting and the deflection of the real issues continue of the noise of parking, trespassing, harassment, liquor violations, and cannabis violations.”
Toward the end of her public comments, Nguyen started to cry. “We have earned the right to be heard and considered [when it comes to] issues that are directly and negatively impacting us,” Nguyen said through her tears.
Throughout the night, residents who abut The Foundry property on 2 Harris Street, along with town residents, spoke both in favor and against granting the Planning Board granting the special permit. According to a list handed out at the beginning of the meeting, the board has received a total of 34 letters in support of the special permit application, and four letters against the application. The count includes 14 letters from non-residents who support the application.
Later on, during the public comments portion of the hearing, resident David Anderegg accused the Planning Board of favoritism towards The Foundry. “At the hearing [on November 1] we had 15 to 20 minutes [from the board] about the history of open-air music in West Stockbridge,” Anderegg said. “It seems pretty clear in all kinds of ways that the way these things have been conducted has been extremely favorable to the petitioners. And I think you need to investigate that for yourselves. Look into it, because a fair hearing is a fair hearing.”
“I served on the Planning Board for 31 years, and I’ve sat on numerous special permit hearings,” Chairperson Bixby said in response. “I am not in an abutter. I have no financial interest. Sure, I like The Foundry, but I conduct a fair hearing.”
At this point, Chairperson Bixby slammed a stack of paperwork hard against the table. “See the work here?” Bixby yelled at Anderegg. “This is volunteer work!”
“Am I supposed to be intimidated by you slamming things around?” Anderegg said in response.
After nearly two-and-a-half hours, the hearing was continued to the Planning Board’s regularly scheduled meeting on Monday, November 21 at 7 p.m.
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