ZBA MEMBER HANK WHY (second from left) speaks during deliberations by the Wolfeboro Zoning Board of Adjustment last Monday evening, Aug. 1, on whether to grant a rehearing on the variance granted to Families in Transition. Board members shown are (l-r) Suzanne Ryan, Why, Chris Franson, Vice Chair Mike Hodder and Chairman Fred Tedeschi. The final vote was 3-2 against a rehearing. *Elissa Maquette photo (click for larger version)
August 04, 2016Last Monday evening, Aug. 1, the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) considered a request from Brian Lombard for a rehearing of the Families in Transition/Green Mountain Realty LLC change in use variance approved on June 1 and affirmed on June 13.
The occasion drew a crowd to the Wolfeboro Public Library meeting room. Many wore the turquoise blue hats that signal support for a proposal to modify the third floor of the Professional Arts Building on Lehner Street to accommodate up to seven families in need of transitional housing at a time.
Families in Transition (FIT), a non profit organization established in 1991 in response to the growing number of homeless individuals and families in Manchester and around the state, intends to use the second floor for conference rooms and business offices involved in the work of the organization. The first floor will continue its commercial function.
The meeting on Monday evening was not a public hearing at which people could offer information or opinions, as they were allowed in the previous hearing held at the Town Hall. It was a meeting of the ZBA limited to making a decision as to whether a rehearing should be granted.
The criteria for granting a rehearing was laid out at the start of the meeting by Chairman Fred Tedeschi. The language provided by Director of Planning and Development Rob Houseman states: "It is assumed that every case will be decided, originally, only after careful consideration of all the evidence on hand on the best possible judgment of the individual members. Therefore, no purpose is served by granting a rehearing unless the petitioner claims a technical error has been made to his detriment or he can produce new evidence that was not available to him at the time of the first hearing."
The first order of business was whether to consider a presentation by realtor Denise Williams, an abutter, that arrived after the deadline. The board agreed that a waiver of the deadline was not allowed by state statute.
Arguments for a rehearing came from ZBA member Suzanne Ryan and Tedeschi, both of whom voted against the original proposal. Ryan said she felt that FIT misled the board when it said that applicants for transitional housing would come only from what she referred to as the Wolfeboro District, apparently a reference to the Governor Wentworth Regional School District (GWRSD), which includes six towns.
The number of homeless students provided to FIT by the GWRSD is around 26, a number that can change as families move in and out of the district at will.
Vice Chairman Mike Hodder called Ryan's accusation "reprehensible".
Ryan and Tedeschi both questioned whether the applicant met the criteria of hardship. Tedeschi disagreed with the case presented by FIT that the variance met the criteria of hardship (among the five conditions) considering that the 67,000 square foot building, whose third floor has remained vacant for years, and which had been on the market for several years, presented a particular difficulty.
In his view, the ability to fill the vacancy in the building could change with an improving economy, for instance. Therefore there is no hardship, thus constituting a technical error.
He stated as well that he thought the evidence presented on assessed values used in support of FIT's claim that establishment of a transitional facility has a neutral or positive effect on property values, was outdated. Also, he would place more credence on sales. That too, in his view, constituted a technical error.
Board member Hank Why disagreed. He felt that assessed values are an accurate indicator.
Ryan accused board members of not fully considering testimony on sales presented by Williams, who Ryan described as an expert witness, with 27 years in the realty business, that property values are likely to diminish in the neighborhood.
Member Chris Franson objected to that charge, as did alternate Susan Raser, who acknowledged William's expertise, but said she did not see evidence that property values would go down. Hodder commented that the board had heard conflicting evidence; each member brings experience with the area, in his case, 32 years, to bear when called upon to weigh the evidence. He added that none of the evidence came from locations like Wolfeboro.
Hodder made a motion to deny the appeal, which passed 3-2 with Ryan and Tedeschi in dissent.