Several Decisions Tonight

by Barak Fravasi

In lieu of the monetary compensation associated with the so-called joke prize, which had been awarded to Matthews after an incorrect answer in the championship round and his consequent loss in that round, he elected to keep the Ingersoll-Rand Vibrating Soil Compactor and, after lengthy arguments and negotiations with the producers of the popular game show — discussions that ended only when Matthews’ sister-in-law, an attorney known to many of us, interceded on his behalf — Matthews was allowed to transport the prize to his home at 26 Woodlawn Avenue, at his own expense, and this is the origin of the zoning issue that occupies us here tonight. My understanding is that Matthews always intended and still intends only to display the vehicle in his backyard, on a cast-concrete platform built specially for the Compactor, an intention consistent with his desire to make a “joke” of the joke prize, as he has written in the affidavit you have before you; and he believes the issue at hand concerns not only his rights as a property owner but also his rights to freedom of expression. Unfortunately for Matthews, and as the complaint by one of his neighbors reminds us, the Town ordinances that apply to the Woodlawn Avenue property expressly prohibit both the use and storage of construction equipment of the weight and dimensions of this particular device without a permit from the Town Supervisor. Matthews has acknowledged that, given his history with the Supervisor,  he feared that a permit might not have been granted regardless of whether or not he had made clear his intended purpose for the object, yet he rightly notes that the ordinances governing the Woodlawn lots do allow the use and storage of tractors and those items considered to be “personal farming equipment;” therefore, our problem is that the ordinances do not, in my opinion, speak unequivocally to the issue of displaying the Vibrating Soil Compactor in the way that Matthews intends, or indeed more generally to the rights of ownership governing either industrial equipment displayed as sculpture or the possession of those devices the Mayor is now calling “the new residential technologies we are likely to be asked about more and more often in these first decades of the new Century.”

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