Signs posted to protest weddings at Olive venue burned by unknown arsonist

One sign was slightly damaged and two others virtually destroyed by fire on High Point Mountain Road. (photo by David Andrews)

On High Point Mountain Road in the Town of Olive, two signs, posted to protest the activities of Ashokan Dreams wedding venue, were burned by an unknown arsonist. David Andrews of the High Point Neighbors Association, which is suing the town for giving a permit to Ashokan Dreams, believes someone is trying to intimidate the group into dropping their suit.

The neighbors have complained about noise, trespassing, and blockage of traffic during events held at Ashokan Dreams, a bed-and-breakfast that has recently begun to host weddings. After hearing the neighbors’ testimony at public meetings, the Olive zoning board ruled that weddings were a valid “accessory use,” prompting the neighbors’ association to sue, claiming the decision violates town code.

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The forest of “No Weddings” signs that cropped up along High Point Mountain Road were criticized by some town residents as unsightly. Olive Chief of Police Don Baker said the burned signs were reported to the police. “A preliminary investigation turned up nothing,” he said. “We have no witnesses and no leads. We turned it over to the state police Bureau of Criminal Investigation because arson is involved.”

Andrews said a third sign was only slightly burned and was not reported to the police and fire department. There have also been minor incidents of vandalism, with trash thrown into the yards of neighbors. Two pounds of rancid smoked salmon were dumped on Andrews’ front lawn. He declared that the arson and vandalism would not make the association drop their suit. “In fact, it is galvanizing us and making us more determined to see this through to the end. It is clear that this whole issue is escalating fast and we are concerned that in their desperation, they will do something that we will all regret.”

He suspects the proprietors of Ashokan Dreams are behind the incidents. “They’re getting very anxious about the fact that the planning board is putting constraints on the number of weddings and issues about controlling crowds and noise. Who profits from setting fire to the signs? The vandalism could have been anybody, except I wonder — who would have two pounds of smoked salmon? Somewhere they have weddings.”

The court case is expected to be adjudicated this month. The planning board has been discussing conditions to be attached to a special permit for the wedding business and has scheduled a public hearing for April 4, when Andrews plans to make a presentation. The board will make a final decision regarding the permit at its May meeting. Ashokan Dreams already has contracts signed for this summer. “Those contracts won’t necessarily comply with what the planning board decides they can do,” Andrews observed. “They’re in a difficult situation.”

Anne-Marie Johanssen of Ashokan Dreams called Andrews’ accusations “ridiculous. I have nothing to do with any of that. We are complying with the requests of the planning board. The town is not preventing me from continuing with my business.” Due to the ongoing litigation, she declined to comment in detail.

Town supervisor Sylvia Rozzelle remarked, “We’ve had a lot of complaints from outside the High Point area about how horrible those signs look. The saddest part is that the lovely community there is never going to be the same. Some people on that road are not talking to each other any more.”

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