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Planning board withholds approval of group home zoning amendment


January 13, 2011
WOLFEBORO — The Wolfeboro Planning Board considered a petition at their Jan. 4 hearing to modify a zoning ordinance pertaining to what constitutes an allowable group home. Petitioners would like to see a group home defined as an "owner-occupied residential dwelling occupied by three or fewer additional unrelated persons."

The impetus for the petition arose from the establishment of a certified group home for up to three disabled residents under the care of Lakeview Neuro Rebabilitation Center at 15 Eagle Trace in a home in Fairway View Estates. The owner filed for a variance with the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) but then withdrew the application as unnecessary, claiming that state law allowed the use. Some Eagle Trace neighbors protested the variance application, saying it is a commercial use not allowable in a residential neighborhood.

Fred Tedeschi, an Eagle Trace homeowner, said that he relocated to Wolfeboro because of its carefully thought-out Master Plan and zoning. He defined the group home as owned by "an opportunistic entity" and said it got past the ZBA because of a "hole in the ordinance."

Another neighbor, former Planning Board Chair Dick Hamilton, said that he felt that the ZBA did not take residents' concerns on the matter seriously and noted that the association of homeowners had sent a letter to the Board of Selectmen, which in turn, sent a letter to the Department of Human Services to slow approval until it was more thoroughly aired, but the state had gone ahead and certified the home.

Kathy Barnard, chairman of the planning board, noted that Town Counsel Laura Spector said that state law preempts town zoning, but Tedeschi, citing his 40 years of legal experience, declared, "I think town counsel is wrong."

Planning board member Jennifer Haskell stated that she would not be voting on the matter because she represented the Fairway View Estates Association before the ZBA, but said that she believed there was "some misunderstanding about state law." She said also that the wording of the amendment was not narrow enough and suggested that adding the words "for profit" might address the issue.

The wording presented a problem to Vice Chairman Stacey Jo Pope, too, who said that she felt the board had heard "some compelling testimony, but definitely, [the amendment] as written posed a problem [to be addressed] in next year's work session." Planning board member Dave DeVries agreed that the wording of the amendment needed more work and more discussion on the part of the planning board.

"People with disabilities do deserve to live in our neighborhoods," said board member Christine Franson. She was empathetic to the concerns of the petitioners and agreed it would be a good issue to study, for she expressed concern about the limitation of "three or fewer additional unrelated persons" as stated in the amendment. "That would exclude some blended families."

A note on the warrant article states: "This proposed Amendment would limit the special exception and site plan requirement to non-owner occupied Group Homes and Group Homes with more than three residents. The VA ROI Residence/Office/Institutional Overlay District consists of all parcels with frontage on South Main Street corridor from Pickering Corner to the Wolfeboro Town Library/Episcopal Church, which is located close to required conveniences and community services."

Haskell reassured the petitioners that the issue "is important to the voters and will not die on the vine if voters do not support your proposal."

The planning board declined to put its imprimatur on the article, but Barnard promised to put it on the work program for next year.

[Editor's Note: At the Board of Selectmen meeting the following Barnard reiterated her plan to add group homes to the planning board's worksession schedule, in response to concerns expressed by Fairway View Estate residents that they felt the planning board was not taking the group home issue seriously.]

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