Controversy over lighting of cross in Northeast Kingdom
LYNDON, Vt. -
For years, a cross has been a symbol of Richard and Joan Downings' faith.
"Their life is really centered around their Catholic faith," said Jim O'Reilly, the Downing's son-in-law.
But it has also been the center of controversy on Darling Hill in Lyndon.
"We never thought this was a fight that needed to be had, freedom of religion, we aren't being able to express that," O'Reilly said.
Back in 2007, the Downings erected the 24-foot by 9-foot cross outside of the Chapel of the Holy Family, which they privately own. At night they would illuminate it. But neighbors complained it was too bright. The town told the Downings they needed a permit for the cross. It ordered the lights turned off and the cross cut in half.
"If we allow a cross to be lit at that size, any commercial business could then come in and say we want a sign this big, lit 24 hours a day," said Justin Smith, the Lyndon zoning administrator.
The Downings and the town eventually reached a compromise. The cross could stay at its original size and could be lit during Advent from dusk to dawn. But the state stepped in and said the cross needed an Act 250 permit ordered the religious symbol come down.
"It was due to how it affected the character of the area. It is probably the, if not the most scenic in Lyndon, one of the top two or three, certainly," Smith said.
For the next three years the Downings and the state fought over the cross in court. An environmental court judge made a final ruling on the issue last year. The cross could stay at its current size and be lit, but only for only one hour during sunset and only during Lent-- a week in September to celebrate the birth of Mary-- and during Advent.
"It allows the Downings to celebrate something they could believe in but not disturb the neighbors, as well," Smith said.
"I'm not happy with it," O'Reilly said. "I think it's kind of sad that they can light it from sunset, for one hour, basically it still bright out from sunset for one hour and it's not really going to shine, and that's the whole purpose behind the cross."
The Downings, who also live in Massachusetts, could not be here Wednesday night due to health issues.
I spoke to a number of neighbors. They declined to go on camera, saying they just want to put this issue behind them. But they all said they thought the judge's ruling was fair.
Sunday, December 8 2013 2:00 PM EST2013-12-08 19:00:23 GMT
A Connecticut man is charged with DUI after police say he admitted to overdosing on prescribed Ritalin when he was pulled over. The incident happened on Route 105 in Berkshire late Friday afternoon. AuthoritiesMore >>
A Connecticut man is charged with DUI after police say he admitted to overdosing on prescribed Ritalin when he was pulled over.More >>
Sunday, December 8 2013 1:42 PM EST2013-12-08 18:42:20 GMT
Police in New Hampshire are investigating an accident on Interstate 89 that claimed two lives. It happened on the northbound lane between Exit#18 and Exit#19 in Lebanon. The initial investigation revealedMore >>
It happened on the northbound lane between Exit#18 and Exit#19 in Lebanon, N.H. Saturday.More >>
Sunday, December 8 2013 1:30 PM EST2013-12-08 18:30:52 GMT
Police say a couple tried to use a baby to smuggle drugs into jail. Police say the baby arrived the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility, with 27-year-old David Willette of Bennington, for a scheduledMore >>
Police say a couple tried to use a baby to smuggle drugs into jail.More >>
Sunday, December 8 2013 1:25 PM EST2013-12-08 18:25:45 GMT
A 28-year-old Coventry man is dead after a crash Saturday night in Irasburg. Police say at about 8:40 p.m. Gerald Begin rolled his car on Route 5 and was thrown out of the vehicle. He was taken toMore >>
A 28-year-old Coventry man is dead after a crash Saturday night in Irasburg.More >>
Sunday, December 8 2013 1:21 PM EST2013-12-08 18:21:13 GMT
Talks next week in New York will try to determine how new state land in the central Adirondacks can be used. The Adirondack Park Agency is considering recommendations for the land in the towns of IndianMore >>
Talks next week in New York will try to determine how new state land in the central Adirondacks can be used.More >>
Sunday, December 8 2013 1:18 PM EST2013-12-08 18:18:31 GMT
Competition could be fierce for new casino licenses in upstate New York. The licenses will be awarded next year after voters passed an amendment allowing Vegas-style casinos outside Indian land. FourMore >>
Competition could be fierce for new casino licenses in upstate New York.More >>
Sunday, December 8 2013 1:13 PM EST2013-12-08 18:13:03 GMT
If you're lucky, you may have seen a snowy owl in Vermont. Researchers say the birds are traveling even farther south than usual -- some even as far south as North Carolina. We spotted one Friday afternoonMore >>
Researchers say snowy owls are traveling even farther south than usual, and that means more sightings here in Vermont.More >>
Sunday, December 8 2013 1:12 PM EST2013-12-08 18:12:07 GMT
The sun is completing a "solar flip," and that means many people could have the best chance in a decade of seeing the aurora borealis, or Northern Lights. NASA says every 11 years the sun's polar magneticMore >>
We check in on some of the week's big science stories, including why the Northern Lights may be more visible soon.More >>