Public artwork isn’t regulated by the city government.
If you find yourself doing a double-take while driving down Route 128 between Westford and Fairfax — yes, that is a seven-foot-tall sculpture of 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’s lit up at night.
Pelkey erected the provocative sculpture on Friday in protest of a long-running dispute with the town of Westford. 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 spent $4,000 on the middle finger sculpture, carved in Vermont by an artisan he declined to name.
“We’ve been trying to put a business there for the past 10 years,” Pelkey said. “It’s just never-ending. They’re railroading us really good.”
Pelkey’s business is currently located in Swanton, where he says 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 business. “We have such little traffic you’d wonder if we were open.”
Allison Hope, chair of the Westford Selectboard, said Pelkey’s application for a building permit fell short of the points it needed to score in the review process by the Development Review Board.
A notice of the decision provided to the Burlington Free Press by the town listed a variety of reasons for the denial of the building permit, 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 the zoning regulations, and there was nothing the town could do to stop the finger from being raised. It’s not advertising a business or service, so it’s not a billboard, Hope said, which are banned in Vermont. 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.