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The continued breakdown of checks and balances in West Stockbridge

Unjustifiable scapegoating of human beings eventually affects every one of us. I fear this is a case where the town of West Stockbridge is about to fail the Nguyen family again, because this issue has clearly become a popularity contest.

To the editor:

I walked into the West Stockbridge Town Hall on Monday, May 20, where I was immediately offered a Foundry sticker. The sticker was black and branded with The Foundry’s logo, probably the diameter of a round beer coaster. I politely declined. I was surprised that people visibly marked their sides of the issue in a community conversation about an amendment to drop sound requirements for The Foundry. I was there for the town meeting regarding this amendment, not to sanction a predetermined outcome based on the number of supporters. Yet, I looked out over a gymnasium filled with mostly Foundry-stickered people. While I was not among that stickered crowd from towns across the Berkshires, I understood that this issue is important to people beyond West Stockbridge: The Foundry provides something unique to the region; even the closest abutting neighbor, Trúc Nguyen, agrees with that. But at what cost?

Yes, Amy Brentano, who is the put-upon-by-all-of-these-sound-requirements owner of The Foundry, has created a popular space for performance and the arts. I have a friend who performs there and is grateful the venue exists. I worked in the music industry for nearly 15 years and value the arts. But do any of Brentano’s ardent supporters ask themselves: Would I want this venue across from my home, especially without sound monitoring? I say no, I would not. And my conscience tells me that I cannot justify this for another West Stockbridge family who has given much to this community over the 45 years they have lived and worked on Harris Street, immigrants who escaped Vietnam during the fall of Saigon.

How did this narrative get flipped? Why is Brentano—the business owner who opened her club in 2019, practically in Nguyen’s front yard, 90 yards to be precise—the victim? She is not. Questionable noise tests, ambient sound blowing through a mic 10 feet above the ground, and claims that the building is sufficiently sound-proofed were not convincing. The family at 1 Harris Street and the dining guests at Truc Orient Express can hear the music when it is loud, the people, the cars, and motorcycles parked along the alley, and the outdoor shows.

At the Monday night town meeting, Brentano, over a 15-minute uninterrupted period, wearily read a laundry list of financial costs she had endured for sound testing and permits. I am sorry that she has had to spend this money; however, she chose to open this venue on Harris Street and did so regardless of the harm she might cause. Because only one neighbor feels the negative impact of noise does not make The Foundry’s neighborhood presence any less impactful; I hope it matters to Brentano that it is an immigrant Asian family across the narrow alley because The Foundry claims to support diversity, etc., and that would undoubtedly conflict with those values.

The West Stockbridge residential supporters of the amendment spoke first. One speaker likened The Foundry to Tanglewood and other music venues. The gist of his statement was that the neighbors who live near Tanglewood don’t complain about the noise and traffic. Tanglewood is at least 1,000 feet from surrounding homes; Tanglewood existed when people in the neighborhood chose to live there. Planning Board Chair Dana Bixby’s gavel was silent throughout the testimonies of those who favored removing the sound-monitoring equipment.

To paraphrase the comments in favor of the amendment, one attendee, a fellow West Stockbridge, resident shared with me that she noticed “most of the amendment’s supporters (unfettered by an otherwise overreaching chair) were people advocating for themselves, talking about what they like, want, or care about to the exclusion of caring about one another.”

The Edge states that Bixby kept control of what I think of now as “The Foundry First” movement. When the audience on the risers in the back of the gymnasium and folding chairs on the floor heard the residential opponents of the amendment speak, the supporters’ boos, jeers, and stomping on the risers followed each speaker. Contrary to what Leslee Bassman wrote in The Berkshire Edge on Monday, May 27, Bixby did little if anything to quell the noise but made the most of her gavel, pounding it throughout each speaker’s plea to keep the sound monitoring up and active at The Foundry and interrupting the speaker’s time repeatedly, taking up their allowed time limit of five minutes (including Nguyen’s rebuttal) with reminders of the time the speaker had left. The phrase “this is not germane” was often spoken, preceded by the gavel. Bixby interrupted at will.

In most cases, what Bixby deemed “not germane” was the beginning of a relevant description or an analogy. As a whole, it was an exercise in failure to even-handedly run a high-stakes community meeting.

Unjustifiable scapegoating of human beings eventually affects every one of us. I fear this is a case where the town of West Stockbridge is about to fail the Nguyen family again, because this issue has clearly become a popularity contest. The winner or loser will be decided by the town Planning Board, which has a responsibility for overseeing land use and development activity within West Stockbridge, not protecting homes that might be in the way of their initiatives.

This should not be all about “what I want,” it should also be about what our greater Berkshire community needs, and that is a firm focus on the people who live there. What affects one family’s long-standing pursuit of peace and happiness should not be overshadowed by crowd mentality.

Cindy J. Kwiatkowski
West Stockbridge

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