Abutters file Land Court complaint against New Salem art museum, academy


  • The New Salem Museum and Academy of Fine Arts, at 37 South Main St. in New Salem Center, is being converted from a sprawling residence. Abutters are contesting the project in Land Court. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 1/15/2021 5:08:22 PM
Modified: 1/15/2021 5:08:19 PM

NEW SALEM – A group of abutters have filed a complaint in state Land Court to challenge the issuance of a special permit to the Weston couple determined to open an art museum and academy on their 37 Main St. property.

Barbara Lauriat, an attorney representing eight abutters, said her clients are appealing the New Salem Planning Board’s Nov. 18 decision, believing the board exceeded its authority in granting the special permit for the change of use from residential/agricultural to a museum and commercial events venue. She said she expects to meet with a Land Court judge and the other parties’ attorney by the end of this month.

The plaintiffs are Peter Fisher, Sandra Fisher, Brian Casey, Genevieve Casey, Jane Schoenberg, Steven Schoenberg, Dorothy Johnson and Susan Arnold.

The complaint was filed against the Planning Board as well as Vincent Barletta, a trustee of the 37 South Main Street Trust.

Barletta and his wife, Laura, bought the property from Vincent’s mother about two years ago. They hope to display their art collection for all to enjoy and host some private events to help offset the cost of operating the New Salem Museum and Academy of Fine Art.

Abutters are concerned about parking and aesthetic issues created by private commercial events, which could include noise, alcohol use and environmental impacts.

“The abutters have not been pleased,” said Lauriat, who is working this case pro bono.

The complaint also states, “The condition of the Special Permit for submission and approval of parking and lighting plans to the Planning Board prior to receiving an occupancy permit as set out in its decision was an unlawful deferral or delegation of authority and renders the decision facially defective.”

Marc J. Goldstein, the attorney presenting the 37 South Main Street Trust, said he does not comment on pending litigation but mentioned the Barlettas “have tried to be … cooperative and understanding of the concerns of the neighbors” and held a series of meeting early on in this process.

“They sort of feel like they didn’t see this coming,” Goldstein said about the pushback.

He said he and Lauriat are slated to go before Land Court Judge Jennifer S.D. Roberts on Jan. 27 to determine a schedule and discuss what issues are being raised in the case. He expects it will be held virtually.

Planning Board Clerk David Cramer had no comment on the matter.

In August, some residents wrote letters to the Planning Board to express their grievances, saying they welcome an art museum and gallery but reject the idea of large private functions. One letter was signed by 64 residents.

Vincent Barletta said the museum and academy is facing some construction hurdles and he is not sure when it will open.

“I finally got all the windows in. We’re starting on millwork and finishes on the inside,” he said. “I’d say we’re about 75 percent of the way there.”

Goldstein said all soil used on South Main Street site will come from the site itself or a local gravel pit and concrete company.

Barletta said he wants to reassure residents there is no intent to build a Walmart-type development in New Salem. He said the plan is for five or six artists to teach students in a mentor-protégé model.

“They are the sweetest, most gentle people in the world,” he said. “It’s not the (Metropolitan Opera). We’re talking a couple days a week. And we’re not talking thousands (of people), we’re talking dozens.”

Barletta said he has already met with concerned abutters and agreed to use low-voltage down lighting.

The Barlettas started their collection in 2005 with “Leaving Home,” an oil painting by Michael Klein, depicting Klein’s wife, Nelida. Michael Klein, an award-winning realist artist and the museum’s director, is assisting in forming the academy’s curriculum.

Laura Barletta previously explained she and her husband collect contemporary realism artwork, which she said is a modern North American movement by artists who paint in the style of brilliant European painters. She said she has original works by Andrew Wyeth and John Singer Sargent she would like to display at 37 South Main St.

Laura Barletta also mentioned the building was once a dormitory of New Salem Academy, which Vincent Barletta’s grandmother attended as a student. Vincent Barletta’s father, who shared the same name as his son, purchased the building for sentimental reasons once the school closed and turned it into a single-family dwelling that was used infrequently. Laura Barletta said her mother-in-law, Patricia Barletta, lives in Connecticut and put the house on the market a few years ago because she was visiting it less and less frequently.

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