By S.D. Plissken | April 23, 2019
I had occasion to see the 1954 film adaptation of the 1947 Broadway musical Brigadoon. It starred Gene Kelly, Van Johnson, and Cyd Charrise. It is a musical romance, with several memorable songs, and did well in its time. (It has an 85% on Rotten Tomatoes). Two American travelers wander into a Scottish village of apparently two hundred years earlier.
The fantastical premise of the film: in order to protect the village of Brigadoon from experiencing any change, its minister prayed for a miracle, and his prayer was answered. Brigadoon was removed from the world entirely, reappearing for but one day in every hundred years. Only those that truly love Brigadoon, or one of its inhabitants, can remain there when its single day in a hundred years has elapsed.
A local contractor once told me the similar fantastical premise underlying Milton’s recent existence, as well as that of many of its surrounding towns. In the early 1980s, its zoning laws were created or rewritten such as, as he put it, “to make sure that nothing ever changed.” I have heard the same characterization from many others too. And several generations of Town “planners” have been screwing down the lid more tightly ever since the early 1980s. They hope to achieve our very own Brigadoon-like “miracle.”
And they are now in the seventh or eighth year of their Fourth Ten-Year Plan. (Shudder).
Now, Milton is very far Off Broadway and the free market, as a force of nature, is ultimately irrepressible. It exists wherever people would like to better their condition, through the peaceful means of exchanging their goods or services for those of others. This force of nature might be discouraged, delayed, diverted, forbidden, and even driven underground (to become gray or black markets), but it can never be entirely suppressed. It will eventually reassert itself.
Some sort of market exists everywhere despite Town, State, County, Federal, and International plans and edicts. It persists in some form even in communist, fascist, and other authoritarian regimes. It thrives even in prisons and concentration camps. (Witness the fictional characters Sefton (William Holden) in Stalag 17 and Red (Morgan Freeman) in the Shawshank Redemption). It defied Prohibition and overpowered the Soviet Union. It created Milton. It defeats all comers, eventually.
Another commenter explained the ridiculous mechanism employed to remove Milton from the world, to keep it in stasis. Milton’s zoning laws have been carefully crafted so as to forbid virtually everything.
But how could that possibly work? They might keep new businesses out, but they cannot keep the old ones alive. It will eventually “wind down.”
Well, there is a Zoning Board of “Allowance” (ZBA) empowered to grant selected exceptions to the rules. It “allows” certain businesses or certain uses of private property, according to its own criteria. (“Silence, whippersnapper, the beneficent Oz has every intention of granting your request”).
But that is certainly an invitation to corruption, if not the very definition of it. A very few people, some of them appointed, i.e., not even elected by a majority of a minority, get to decide if a property owner may use their own private property as they wish?
Yes, I know. You see, you do not really “own” your property, you only think you do. The “community” owns your property and it – well, actually, “its” majority-of-a-minority Town government – allows only certain uses of it. Things they might like. Because they are wise, and overlords, they are wise overlords.
For example, there is a certain economic logic to the placement of grocery stores: any cluster of 5,000 inhabitants can sustain a grocery store. And that might have been nice. It certainly might have been the “attraction” that so many claim to want. But it was forbidden.
We all know how China Pond’s expansion foundered on State and local parking restrictions. At last Monday’s BOS meeting, they were comically authorizing the Town Planner to negotiate with the State regarding parking places. If we surrender some existing spaces, to the detriment of any future business owners that front them, we might, just might – if we ask nicely, and with our cap in hand – secure State authorization to retain some lesser number of the already existing parking spaces. What a sorry solution.
Index Packaging nearly decamped, when their proposed expansion was forbidden. (Their departure has been shelved, for the present). A chain restaurant might have found a home here, but those are forbidden. It would be difficult to catalog the economic opportunities – the “attractions” – we have forgone in a vain effort to keep Milton out of the world.
Last Monday’s Board of Selectmen meeting had much of this authoritarian thinking on display. Some claim to love Milton, or certain aspects of it anyway, and maybe they do, in their own peculiar way. But they definitely dislike freedom. One might feel bad for them, if one were not manacled to them, and trying to stay afloat in some very deep waters.
The highlight of the evening was Mr. Larry Brown’s agenda item. His presentation featured nearly everything. He complained that his agenda item was not taken up in a secret session, as he had requested. He is a strong advocate of transparency, no doubt.
What did he want to discuss in secret? It seems that some taxpayer had dared to question the ethics of transferring public properties – for $1 apiece – between public and private boards while sitting on both boards. Mr. Brown took umbrage at that instance of lèse-majesté. He would have counseled the board, in private, that such outrages need not be endured. They have the Power (his emphasis) to do pretty much as they please. Evidently, he is not a big fan of “speaking truth to power.”
From there, he proceeded to tout historic preservation. He desires an influx of more taxpayers that have more taxable money. Through more planning. He expressed his profound gratification over Milton Mills’ progress towards “gentrification.” He disapproved of manufactured homes, which constitute some 14.9% of Milton’s homes (See Milton’s NHES Community Profile – 2018). There are entirely too many of them. (“Few tourists travel anywhere to see the double-wides of New Jersey”). He recounted how he had prevented several businesses from establishing themselves at Plummer’s Ridge and elsewhere. (He stands astride it like a Colossus). He has spent “thousands” of his own money on lawsuits.
As a Town official, Mr. Brown splits his time between the Planning Board, where businesses are restricted, and the Zoning Board of Allowance, where he has the Power to stifle those few that may slip through the cracks. (A legislative acquaintance told me this double-office holding was formerly not permitted, as an obvious conflict of interest, but that the legal restriction has been withdrawn recently). He is also a Library Trustee. And very nearly gained a seat on the Board of Selectmen.
Only one thing could disrupt the continuance of Brigadoon’s “miracle”: if even one of its inhabitants ceased to entirely love it and wished to depart, the miracle would cease and the village return to the world.
Town of Milton. (2019, April 15). BOS Meeting, April 15, 2019. Retrieved from youtu.be/Oxzie5qj6NQ?t=849
Wikipedia. (2019, April 3). Brigadoon. Retrieved from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brigadoon
Wikipedia. (2019, April 7). Lèse-majesté. Retrieved from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lèse-majesté
Wikipedia. (2019, January 30). Robinson Crusoe Economy. Retrieved from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robinson_Crusoe_economy