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Vermont man gives his town the middle finger — and officials can't do anything about it  2 Months ago

Source:   USA Today  

WESTFORD, Vt. — A Vermont man in a long-running dispute with his town has erected a 7-foot-tall sculpture that tells passersby exactly how he feels.

The artwork is a raised middle finger, carved from a 700-pound block of pine and perched atop a 16-foot pole on the property of Ted Pelkey.

Oh, and it looks like a lamp at night.

Pelkey set out the provocative sculpture Nov. 30. The town's Development Review Board denied Pelkey a permit for an 8,000-square-foot garage he wants to build on his 11-acre property.

He paid $4,000 to a Vermont artisan he declined to name.

"We've been trying to put a business there for the past 10 years," Pelkey said of his Westford residence. "It's just never-ending. They're railroading us really good."

Pelkey's business is now about 25 miles northwest in Swanton, where he said he's running out of space. His main business is cleaning spools for a monofilament line company.

Pelkey and his son also do some truck repair on the side.

"It's a low-impact thing," Pelkey said of his company. "We have such little traffic you'd wonder if we were open."

Allison Hope, chairwoman of the Westford Selectboard, said Pelkey's application for a building permit fell short of the points it needed in the Development Review Board's review process.

A notice of the decision that the town provided to the Burlington Free Press listed a variety of reasons for the denial, including that the application does not describe the proposed use of the structure and that it doesn't include the necessary information about lighting that will "likely be needed for security purposes."

And the giant middle finger?

"He apparently can do what he's done," Hope said of the sculpture. 

Hope had the town's planning coordinator look at zoning regulations, and the town could not stop the finger from being raised.

It's not advertising a business or service, so it's not a billboard, banned in Vermont, she said. Instead, it falls under the category of public artwork.

"The Pelkeys can do what they like to exercise their free speech within the laws and regulations," she said.

Pelkey is not the first to come up with the idea of this particular kind of protest art:

• In 2013, strip club owner Alan Markovitz bought the house next to his ex-wife in Orchard Lake, Michigan, and erected a 12-foot bronze middle-finger statue in his backyard, visible from her windows, Deadline Detroit reported.

Burlington lawyer Brian Monaghan has represented Pelkey for the past six or seven years, he said.

"I think what I would say is he doesn't feel like the town of Westford has given him a fair shake," Monaghan said of his client.

Monaghan appealed the Development Review Board's decision eight weeks ago in a mediation discussion, and is still waiting for a decision from the board. He declined to comment on what was discussed in the mediation, citing its confidentiality. 

"I don't want to torpedo that process myself," Monaghan said. "Generally speaking, I thought we had a plan forward."

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