Walden Eco Village tenants settle with landlord out of court

  • The Walden Eco Village in Peterborough. Ben Conant / Monadnock Ledger Transcript

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 6/20/2022 4:59:31 PM
Modified: 6/20/2022 4:59:11 PM

Following a mediation session, the landlord for the Walden Eco Village has settled out-of-court with a group of tenants who filed suit after being evicted from their homes only days before Christmas in December 2020 for multiple code violations.

Akhil Garland, the trustee for the Garland Family Realty Trust and Utopia Living, who owns and was the landlord of the Walden Eco Village, confirmed Sunday that the suit had been settled. The terms of the settlement are confidential.

The court ordered an attempt at mediation occur by 2023.

“The terms of the settlement agreement are confidential, but I can share that I felt very supported by the judge and am very pleased with the settlement and the fact that it is behind us, and that I can better focus my  time and energy on realizing the future potential of Walden and it’s ability to positively impact our town,” Garland stated.

The tenant group, which includes Corinne Chronopoulos, Sarah Trento, Michelle O’Mahony and Griffin Kelley, filed suit shortly after their eviction. The four were residents of Walden Eco Village on Middle Hancock Road, a 41-acre development that contained a total of 15 small residences, which were originally intended to be temporary housing for faculty and staff of the Well School. More recently, they were leased as permanent residences, rented for prices up to $1,400 for the larger buildings and $495 for the smallest. Residents shared laundry and cooking facilities.

In December of 2020, the town of Peterborough, Code Enforcement Officer Timothy Herlihy and Fire Inspector Lt. Scott Symonds did an inspection of the entire property, and determined that 14 of the buildings were being rented as individual dwellings, and noted numerous violations of town code, zoning ordinance and site plan review regulations. The structures were not properly permitted as permanent residences, and the town ordered the buildings be vacated.

The tenants sued Garland for damages including the obligation to obtain housing, return of all their deposits, moving expenses, towing expenses and storage fees, future rent in excess of that they were paying at the Eco Village and past rent paid for what was represented to be legal residential dwelling units.

In March 2021, the Town of Peterborough was added as a third-party defendant to the case, with the plaintiffs alleging the town was “unreasonable and unlawful” in issuing a cease-and-desist order with no prior notice, despite having longstanding knowledge of the property and the nature of the homes on it, and only providing five days for tenants to vacate, in the middle of the winter and amidst COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

The suit between the town and the tenant group has yet to be resolved.

Garland is working with the town to create a lawful subdivision using some of the existing buildings on the property. Garland recently was granted a variance by the Peterborough Zoning Board to allow the Walden Eco Village to keep 10 of the 15 structures, which were built within the wetlands buffer. An application to subdivide the property, allowing 20 homes on quarter-acre lots, has been in front of the Planning Board since July of 2020, and is still ongoing.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 603-924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter  @AshleySaariMLT.

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