June 20, 2017NEW DURHAM — A potential gravel pit proposed for the northern section of town was deemed to be an industrial use. As such, the Zoning Board of Adjustment deemed the application, as submitted, impermissible under the town's current regulations. The determination was made by a unanimous vote at the ZBA's June 12 monthly meeting.
During a phone interview a few days after the hearing, committee chair Terry Jarvis said that the session lasted some five hours. She said much of the meeting was devoted to commentary from concerned stakeholders who were entitled to speak, according to state statute.
As per standard operating procedure, abutters are entitled to address a proposed project. Since it had been deemed one of "regional impact," officials from surrounding communities were also entitled to be heard. The proposed site is located in a part of town adjacent to neighboring Wolfeboro and Middleton. Both communities had officials present to address impact concerns expressed by their constituents.
Jarvis could not recall a stakeholder, other than the applicant, speaking in favor of the project. She said those who testified included abutting residents, lawyers and officials from surrounding communities. The latter group included selectmen from adjoining towns and other concerned parties. She said officials from Wolfeboro, Middleton and the corporation that provides drinking water to the Friar Tuck neighborhood spoke against the project.
Jarvis said her own conclusion was based on existing town regs, state guidelines and the details of the proposal itself.
"We have to follow the guidelines to the letter," Jarvis said.
About four-fifths of the lengthy meeting was devoted to the gravel pit project, although the ZBA did have other business to conduct.
Jarvis said the meeting's length was due largely to the fact that the local and regional impact of the project entitled a larger than usual number of stakeholders the right to speak.
Stakeholders opposing the project have vocally expressed concerns regarding their abutting property values, impacts to local roads in the three-town area, public safety, and overall quality of life.
"People speaking all raised legitimate concerns," Jarvis said, adding, "But our job [as the ZBA] is to weigh the merits of the application against what is permissible per town regulations and what the state will allow."
In determining that the plan couldn't be approved as submitted, the ZBA granted the applicant 30 days to amend its submission. Jarvis noted that the board normally grants 21 days. The extra week and a half would push a potential re-hearing out to August, Jarvis said.
She added that the timetable for resubmission would allow the ZBA to publicly warn the meeting and connect directly with abutters and any other appropriate stakeholders.
"It is the applicant's right to request a new hearing or submit an amended application based on feedback," Jarvis said.
Tom Varney, an Alton-based engineer representing his client, Green Oak of Chichester, said he plans to resubmit the application.
Rather than viewing the determination as a rejection of the project, he considers the opportunity to take ZBA guidance into consideration.
"We will definitely submit an amended application," Varney said, adding, "We really consider this to be a continuation."
He said that his client and the ZBA just have different interpretations as to what constitutes a strictly commercial use, versus a commercial one with an industrial component.
To this end, Varney also described gravel pit regulations as "unclear." He said he is firm in the belief that the proposed use is acceptable within the current zoning and land use guidelines.
He added, "They seem open to interpretation," noting that there is language that exempts gravel pit projects from some of the strictures governing other extractive endeavors.
Speaking as an abutter, Lake Winnipesaukee Golf Club GM David Przybylski talked with Salmon Press in a post-meeting phone interview.
He said he is pleased that the ZBA interpreted laws and regulations to determine that extracting and transporting gravel from the large parcel adjacent to his business' property constitutes an industrial use. He maintains that such a use is not permitted and is cautiously optimistic that his club and other abutters can successfully make their case.
"This is our business at stake, so we're taking this seriously," Przybylski said.
Przybylski said he, colleagues, legal counsel, and fellow abutters will monitor developments and that they will continue to make their concerns known at public hearings and through other channels.
"We know this is a process, and it's one we and other people involved intend to remain engaged in," he said.
At prior hearings, Przybylski noted that noise and visual impacts could affect his customers' experience. He also expressed sympathy for the golf club's residential neighbors.
"This kind of operation could really affect the character of the neighborhood," he said, expressing concerns for local road conditions, quality of life issues, and the safety of local pedestrians in anticipation of increased traffic and trucking.
While it is likely that any future hearing before the ZBA will be heard in August, no July agenda was posted at deadline. Residents interested in the topic should visit the town web site for upcoming public hearing information.