Soon after a cannabis cultivation site proposal sparked controversy, a glamping pitch for the Dream Away Lodge grounds spurs its own intense debate in Becket. This small and scenic Central Berkshire town can’t seem to catch a breath between divisive episodes of internal rancor over development proposals.

A lawyer hired by Becket residents told planners Wednesday the town’s zoning bylaw forbids the kind of permanent structures described in the “glamping” development that seeks a special permit as part of a revived Dream Away Lodge venture.

While the public discussion over the cannabis facility was heated, the one surrounding the Dream Away glamping proposal has seemingly reached an uglier fever pitch. The most recent example of passions flaring unproductively came during last week’s Planning Board Zoom hearing when the panel’s vice chair interjected with a vulgarity while a lawyer representing several local residents was speaking.

The attorney’s representation was on behalf of several local residents opposed to the glamping proposal, but in this case it doesn’t matter who’s on what side. This conduct was inexcusably disrespectful and unbecoming of anyone looking to meaningfully contribute to the local democratic process, to say nothing of the higher standard our elected leaders should meet. This outburst might have been singular in its severity, but it betrays an animus unfortunately apparent on both sides. It’s not only unnecessary but harmful to the conversation needed here, not to mention the health of the community.

If one needs evidence of why municipal boards still holding remote-only meetings should break from that inertia, look no further. Would a local official have obscenely interrupted a speaker at an in-person meeting where folks could hash out these issues face-to-face? It arguably would be far less likely. Meanwhile, tensions were only heightened by a Zoom queue of more than 100 people, with an Eagle reporter noting the constant intrusion of muttering and outside comments from users who might have been unaware they were unmuted. Doesn’t a hearing on an issue this weighty deserve more dignity and an effort to turn down the heat that digital domains often inflame?

As we have stressed in this space, there is an honest conversation that must be had not just in Becket about priorities, reflexive resistance to change and the tenuous balancing act of preserving community character vs. encouraging the investment and revitalization the region desperately needs. A serious look at this glamping proposal produces questions about striking that balance here, even beyond those sticky particular questions — Are cabins buildings for zoning purposes? Do permanent structures imply a use that’s not truly ‘camping’? — that pushed a Planning Board meeting over the edge.

With regard to this specific proposal, we don’t want to tell Becket what to think, but we suggest a change in how. The answers to the above questions won’t be found without filtering out the emotional arguments from the substantive ones. This decision, ultimately up to the Becket community, needs to be decided in a thoughtful and careful manner.

The one silver lining at this contentious Planning Board hearing was right after its lowest moment when the vice chairman interrupted a speaker. Thankfully, his peers on the Planning Board quieted him, the board’s chairman adding “We just have to listen.” That simple statement is a reminder of something that shouldn’t require spelling out to another official but now bears underscoring: For the enterprise of local democracy to work, we have to listen to each other with some baseline of decency and charity, including those with whom we strongly disagree.

Yes, even when it comes to a glamping proposal for a cherished parcel.

published 2022-04-21 16:00:00