Wilmington debates public nudity ordinance

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(Host) Voters in Wilmington decide today whether they’ll keep a town ordinance banning nudity. Selectman passed the ordinance earlier this summer in response to complaints about behavior at a popular swimming area. Last night the Selectboard held a special town meeting to respond to questions about the ban.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) The debate Monday night pitted concerns about morality against arguments for personal freedom. The ordinance is designed to bring an end to a long tradition of nude swimming in an area of the Harrison Reservoir in Wilmington. Supporters of the ban say the nudity has spread to parts of the shoreline frequented by families and nearby property owners who may be offended by practice. They also site instances of lewd behavior and a recent arrest at the reservoir.

Selectman Paul Kasanoff defended the expense of enforcing the law. And Kasanoff says the benefits of outlawing public nudity outweigh any concerns about the impact on other activities in the community:

(Kasanoff) “I take issue with someone that says it may cost us a few extra dollars’. I think morality priorities are the first thing. As far as theatre performances, if we have to have a few plays scratched because of nudity, then so be it. So I think you should vote no’ tomorrow and uphold this ordinance and keep this town moral and safe and stop all the people coming in here to perform the disgusting things that they are.”

(Zind) Kasanoff says out-of-state bathers are drawn to area by web site postings which tout Wilmington as a Mecca for nude swimming. Wilmington’s police chief says his department receives one or two complaints a year about lewd behavior at the reservoir.

Opponents of the ordinance say a small minority is responsible for the conduct. They argued the town should simply enforce existing state laws governing lewd and lascivious behavior. Wilmington resident Gary Austin says the new ordinance is a step in the wrong direction.

(Austin) “It troubles me, Paul, when you say well just one play or two we can’t have’. Well, let’s burn a few books. Only because we have allowed ourselves as a nation and as people, to grow, all the good stuff has come about. We diminish ourselves endlessly and tragically when we diminish our liberties.”

(Zind) Rutland and South Burlington are the only other Vermont towns with ordinances banning nudity. Both were developed in response to nightclubs featuring nude dancing.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind in Wilmington.

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