January 17, 2013BROOKFIELD —Charles Robbins, the Brookfield property owner who has submitted a citizen's warrant article for the March ballot proposing a change to the town's current zoning ordinance, had previously found 36 residents to sign his petition article, but at the public hearing held on Monday, Jan. 7, he seemed to stand alone in the crowd of about 40 Brookfield residents that attended.
Although it's to be expected that most residents with concerns about the project would attend the hearing, not one person, other than Robbins himself, spoke favorably of the proposed recreational resort campground zone. That doesn't mean, however, that everyone in attendance was opposed to the idea, but the article's supporters were either absent or silenced by the concerns brought forth.
Robbins' article, which will appear on the March ballot, asks voters to approve an amendment to the zoning ordinance that would allow for a Recreational Resort Campground and Town Beach Access Zone on Brookfield tax map 29, lot 7 and tax map 28, lots 28-2 and 28-2a – three lots of approximately 200 acres in an area on the far side of Kingswood Lake.
The proposed amendment would allow, in addition to those uses permitted in the residential agricultural zone, a recreational resort campground use and would give residents access to Kingswood Lake at a to-be-designated area within the approved recreational area campground.
By state law the planning board was required to hold a public hearing to allow residents a chance to hear about and discuss the proposed article. The board is also obligated to recommend or to not recommend of the warrant: a board decision that will be stated on the ballot along with the article.
Representing 61 Brookfield landowners opposed to amending the zoning ordinance in this manner, BCM Environmental and Land Law attorney Jason Reimers voiced many of these individual's concerns.
Reimers said that the proposed amendment was an example of illegal spot zoning, as the parcel would have uses dissimilar to that of the surrounding properties, creating an island with no relevant differences from its neighbors. Because only one landowner's property would be rezoned this also conflicts with the town's current ordinance and Master Plan which state that zoning regulations must be done in districts and not on individual pieces of property.
He made many points as to how he believes the article conflicts with the town's current zoning and Master Plan as well as state regulations. He also claimed it is fraught with unknowns.
The town's zoning ordinance restricts funnel development on the shorefront, he said, and the Master Plan places restrictions on campgrounds.
According to Reimers, the Master Plan also notes the area around Kingswood Lake to be a shoreline protection area in which only single-family dwellings and agricultural uses are be permitted.
He read from his notes that how much property tax revenue the campground would generate was speculative and would most likely be offset by a decrease in the property values of surrounding properties and increase in cost of services.
Reimers was certain that because of these conflicts the proposed amendment would likely be deemed by a court to be illegal spot zoning. If passed in March, he assured the planning board that the decision would be challenged in court by those he represented.
Brookfield will "save money defending spot zoning if the board recommends against this amendment and the voters heed their advice," he said.
For a town that currently has no commercial enterprises outside of the home (with the exception of Moose Mountain Recreation), the underlying concern is how this amendment to the zoning and the potential changes that might come with it would impact the town's favored rural character. A concern was also expressed about how by allowing it would set a precedent for future projects. A tourist population would bring about an increase in services such as fire, police, ambulance and road maintenance as well as create noise and cause traffic implications some noted.
Because so many appreciate the quietness the town's current two-acre zoning ensures some residents worry that this new zone will jeopardize that.
If it is approved based on what they believe will happen to the property now, down the road if the property is sold a new owner could have different intentions. The new zone will not just disappear with the sale of the land.
Resident Dulcie Lavender said that the townspeople have an expectation that the zoning ordinance offers some protection over the quality of life and property values. She said this project would have a huge impact on the lake and residents around the lake.
Harriet Wilson took it a step further and said that it makes her sick to picture this kind of development anywhere in this community, especially in a pristine area which has conservation needs and legal implications. "We can't afford this and we don't want it," she stated.
Residents voiced unease with what some said was a lack of information in the proposal, such as how many units would be built.
Residents Jim Freeman and Martha Pike were of the same opinion, that the proposal would change the character of the town and "deteriorate our aspects of what we want for a community."
Tom Giguere, Chairman of the Brookfield Conservation Commission, read aloud a letter drafted by the commission after discussing the proposal.
"Much of the parcel is rated as highest ranked habitat by the N.H. Wildlife Action Plan and the recently-completed Lakes Region Conservation Plan identifies the parcel as a core focus area of exceptional significance," he read.
Because the land is so close to protected area the current RA-1 zoning is appropriate, he said.
Resident Dick Peckham reinforced the letter with charts identifying protected land and land targeted for conservation by the Lakes Region Conservation Plan. He also noted priority areas for future conservation through different organizations.
"The parcel in question is designated as targeted by Fish and Game as areas that they would like to see conserved" and which have a high animal population and occurrence of wetland.
Robbins himself didn't speak much except to ensure that in regards to the project all rules and regulations would be followed.
"Trust your planning board," he said. "They'll hold my feet to the fire. You're going to get a good project and the citizens are going to get to swim in the lake. I'll work with the planning board and the state to make a clean, neat, beautiful project" where people will be able to hike, fish and kayak.
He also said that for years "a number one request by citizens has been for lake access." In defending some of the public's curiosities as to what he'll allow in the campground and claims that the project is too high density Robbins said that he does not intend to allow RV parking and that the structures are meant to be "close so that you're using a minimal amount of that land."
Planning Board Chair Geary Ciccarone said that while "the feelings of the town are very important," more importantly was deciding if the proposed change to the zoning ordinance was "for the good of Brookfield."
He urged the public to keep in mind that this article is only proposing to change from one zone to another zone and is not yet asking for approval for the cabins and beach. "That's just preamble about what may go into this," he said.
The board will utilize the advice of town counsel to determine if the article does indeed represent spot zoning and/or if it promotes the health, safety or general welfare of the community.
The Board was scheduled to meet again on Monday, Jan. 14 during which it would most likely make a statement as to how it stands with the proposal.
This public hearing can be viewed in its entirety on www.governmentoversite.com under the Brookfield Planning Board option.