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Year End Review: Controversial Cross Allowed to Remain in Lyndonville

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LYNDON -- Joan and Richard Downing, owners of the Chapel of The Holy Family on Darling Hill Road, earlier this year won a nearly five year crusade to keep their cross on Darling Hill Road.

In her ruling, Vermont Environmental Court Judge Merideth Wright declared the controversial 24-foot-high illuminated cross can remain as is outside the stone chapel. The ruling also allows the couple to illuminate the cross for three periods of religious observance, but only for an hour at sunset each night, not dusk-to-dawn as they wanted.

Joan Downing said of Judge Wright's ruling, "We accept the decision of the court. We feel good about it," she said.

For several years the Downings were in parallel legal battles to keep their cross. They appealed the ruling of the District No. 7 Environmental Commission, which would not issue an after-the-fact Land Use Permit amendment, saying the cross did not belong in the rural, residential setting. The Downings also had battled the state, claiming their constitutional right to exercise their religion was being impinged.

The three periods when the cross will be illuminated, as proposed by the Downings, are from Ash Wednesday through Easter Sunday, a week during early September to mark the birth of Mary, and from Advent Sunday through Epiphany.

A footnote to the Judgment Order states that "local sunset may be determined from the website of the Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium, which gives the time of sunset in Lyndonville on its website."

Wright said allowing the one-hour illumination during the 12 to 13 weeks she has approved "would not offend the sensibilities of the average person in this rural area."

"As applied to the regulation of the cross by this decision, Act 250 does not violate either the federal or the state constitutional protections of Applicants' freedom of speech," the judge ruled.

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