Harris Street Access Issues (copy)

A dispute that has embroiled West Stockbridge was created when the town closed the Harris Street bridge to traffic and converted it to a footbridge, essentially landlocking Truc Orient Express with private property. The parties have reached an agreement to settle the problem until a permanent solution is found.

Of the many lessons the pandemic taught us, an important one is that we must find ways to come together to surmount unforeseen challenges that would otherwise drive us apart. We can learn a lot from two local businesses in West Stockbridge.

Earlier this year, a winding series of events that spans three decades suddenly presented an issue for neighboring downtown businesses Truc Orient Express and The Foundry. More than 20 years ago, the town converted a bridge over the Williams River to only allow foot traffic, severing vehicle access to Harris Street, which ends at Truc. That left the Vietnamese restaurant and the properties on which it sits landlocked without access via public roads, with just a single drivable artery to and from the restaurant: a private road unofficially known as Merritt Way.

For more than 20 years, Truc patrons have used this road to reach the restaurant. That private way is part of The Foundry’s property, though, and the venue owner’s decision to host outdoor events included closing the road from 5 to 9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays — which meant ceasing vehicle access to the restaurant during peak dining and takeout hours.

This complicated issue became a distracting dispute for two businesses trying to take advantage of a chance to bounce back from the long slump imposed by COVID on enterprises like eateries and performance spaces. It could have spiraled into an even larger conflict, potentially spilling into court and roiling a small town’s close-knit community. The fact that it did not largely owes to the two business owners’ coolheaded efforts to compromise on a temporary settlement.

Foundry owner Amy Brentano agreed to keep Merritt Way open to the public at all times to allow access to Truc, and not close it during outdoor performances, removing the threat of throttling traffic to the restaurant during critical weekend business hours. The agreement also allows Truc proprieter Truc Nguyen to make formal complaints against The Foundry over issues like noise or zoning rules.

Meanwhile, the temporary plan set to run through October also sees the two business owners joining their voices to “urgently demand” that the town do its overdue diligence to prevent such disputes by reopening public vehicle access to Harris Street, which would relieve Truc of its landlocked status. This amiable approach is far better for all parties involved — the businesses, local officials and the community at large — than battling it out in front of a judge. For the town’s part, officials have said in the wake of the business’ truce that West Stockbridge is readying to buy an easement that would allow access to Harris Street from Moscow Road, and is also eyeing a feasibility study on reopening the Williams River bridge to vehicle traffic — better late than never.

After a community comes together to endure a pandemic, it would be a shame if this sort of conflict were to spoil that unity.

Luckily, Ms. Brentano and Ms. Nguyen decided to proactively preserve it, recognizing that the high road of neighborly consideration and good business relations is the best way past a spat years in the making due to quirky parcel divisions mostly out of their control.

We urge town officials to not waste the owners’ patience and move purposefully on the traffic access issues to help push this amicable temporary agreement toward a more permanent one.

Fortunately, that seems to be just what business owners have in mind. “I’m really not trying to do any damage — I’m trying to support,” Ms. Brentano told The Eagle after the agreement was announced. After all, coming together to support each other in hardship is what neighbors do best.