Planning & Zoning Board Notices & Minutes

Apr 9, 2019

Approved Zoning Board Minutes - April 9, 2019


 

LITTLETON ZONING BOARD OF ADJUSTMENT
LITTLETON COMMUNITY CENTER, HEALD ROOM
120 MAIN STREET
TUESDAY, APRIL 9, 2019
6:00 PM
APPROVED with minor edit on April 23, 2019

 

PRESENT:  Chair Jessica Daine, Vice Chair Jerry LeSage, Ralph Hodgman, David Rochefort, Jim McMahon, George Morgan (alternate), and Joanna Ray (recording secretary)

 

EXCUSED:  Guy Harriman (alternate) and Eddy Moore (alternate)

 

OTHERS:  Attorney Chris Meier, Alex Richey, Vicki Marvin, Judith Marvin, Janice Newton, Rodney Marvin, Town Manager Andrew Dorsett, Schuyler Sweet, Maureen Dexter, Art Tighe, Nick Fischer, Bruce Hadlock, and Zoning Officer Milton Bratz

 

Chair Daine called the meeting to order at 6:00.  Both applications will be discussed at the same time, but voted on separately.  

 

Chapman Littleton LLC, Owner / Attorney Christopher T. Meier, Agent – ZBA19-02 – Request for a Variance relating to Article IV, Section 4.02.06 of the Littleton Zoning Ordinance to allow an Educational Facility and Residential Housing at 24 Beacon Street, tax map 79-176, in the Industrial zone.

Chapman Littleton LLC, Owner / Attorney Christopher T. Meier, Agent – ZBA19-03 – Request for a Variance relating to Article X, Section 10.01.03 of the Littleton Zoning Ordinance to allow more than 12 attached residential units at 24 Beacon Street, tax map 79-176, in the Industrial zone.

The hearings were noticed, abutters were notified, and case fees were paid.  The applications were accepted as complete. A full Board was present and no conflicts were noted.

Bob Chapman, owner, was ill and could not attend the hearing. Alex started the presentation.  Mr. Chapman purchased the property in May 2018.  He has redeveloped property like this one in other NH towns and is working with the State and the Department of Business and Economic Affairs.   The building has been closed since 2015.  The manufacturing that was at this location is no longer being done anymore.  The plan is to have the Community College be the anchor tenant and occupy 38,000 square feet.  This would be located on the first floor of the five-story building.  The other four stories would be for the student housing or other workforce housing.  The bigger plan for the future would be to rent office space and perhaps put in a gym.  These things would work well with the school.  Construction is planned for this summer.

Atty. Meier stated the building has been used on and off since 1910.  Mr. Chapman is using the existing building instead of building new.  The site is zoned Industrial, but commercial and residential uses are being proposed.  The reason for a variance is to let uses through that might benefit the community.

Atty. Meier addressed the variance criteria. Granting the variance will not be contrary to the public interest because it uses the existing building and adds a Community College to Littleton.  Rehabilitating this complex will benefit the public.  It will be hard to find another use for this building.  The spirit of the ordinance would be observed.  Section 1.01 of the Littleton Zoning Ordinance states land shall be used in a manner that is not disorderly, unsightly, noxious, offensive, or detrimental to the public or the owners or occupants of adjacent property, or prejudicial to the general welfare of the community. This building is currently empty in in disrepair.  The rehabilitation will benefit the town and the interest of the Zoning Ordinance. Granting the variance would do substantial justice because it also adds to the workforce housing which is a benefit to Littleton.  Values of the surrounding properties would not be diminished.  Atty. Meier stated that there are not many abutters, but the rehabilitation will increase their values. Not granting the variance would result in unnecessary hardship because this is a unique property.  It borders the train track and river.  Finding an industrial project for this property has proven to be impossible.  The building is very large.  The proposed is the best and highest use.

Vice Chair LeSage asked if there were plans for the other half of the building.  Alex replied that there are no plans at this point and they are looking for other businesses to work with the college tenant such as offices or a fitness club.  The campus will be expanded slowly. 

Ralph stated this approval would be for the whole building. Chair Daine added that other permitted Industrial uses could be there without additional ZBA approval. 

Vice Chair LeSage asked if they are certain the college wants to be located there.  Alex replied that she has been working with the college and the conversations are advanced to confirm they want to expand.  Other State agencies are also involved. Littleton is one of the towns in NH with an increasing population.  This is a prime location and the college is very eager.  Vice Chair LeSage asked if there was any idea on the number of students. Alex replied that it could reach 600 students, but not all of them are there at the same time. The diesel mechanic program is the only program like it in NH and is very sought after.  The upper parking lot has 283 spaces and is more than adequate.  Atty. Meier added that the parking adequacy will be addressed by the Planning Board. 

Alex stated that has not been determined if the housing will be more dormitory than apartment.  That decision will affect the total number of requested units.  Mr. Chapman will have the final say, but the college will also say what they need. 

David asked about the workforce housing.  Alex replied that initially the housing would be for the college.  If the college did not need it all, there would be housing for non-students.  They will not be high end but they also will not be low income or Section 8.  Another option is to have housing available to those working at the college.  Any housing not associated with the college will have a separate entrance from the dorms and school. 

David noted that the previous use was industrial and asked if any of the permitted uses would fit there. Alex replied that there is an opportunity for some, but this is a very large building and finding a user for the entire space is difficult.  There are some looking for 6,000 – 8,000 square feet.  This would not generate enough income to do repairs to the building.

Ralph asked if there was hazardous material on the property. Alex replied not to her knowledge. No reports have indicated material on site.  Mediation would be done if any was found.  The State has copies of all inspection reports and she was not informed of any concerns.

Ralph confirmed that the first application is for the school and up to 12 housing units. The first application is for two uses.  The Board could approve both of them or just one.  

Jim asked if the applicant had spoken with the Fire Chief.  Alex replied that they are working with a structural architect and the State Fire Marshall.  An educational facility has specific regulations.  Atty. Meier added that this is a multi-step process including the Planning Board.  Jim asked if there would be vocational with traditional classrooms.  Alex identified the area of the building that would be for classrooms, labs, and the mechanic area.

Schuyler Sweet, citizen, stated he has met with Mr. Chapman and Alex.  This is a great opportunity for an eyesore building.

Alex stated that if this is granted they will start building during the 12-month period.  They need the authority to develop the plan. 

Rod Marvin stated that he is not necessarily against them using the land, but is against 80-100 apartments.  Rod showed the Board where the work area is on his property and explained how that would not work well with residential housing right next door. There will be complaints. His family has been doing the same work on his property for 60 years.  Rod and Mr. Chapman have spoken and are agreeable to the 12 dorms.  Rod is not agreeable to 1200 people, but is agreeable to see someone work on the eyesore building.  David asked Rod if he had any suggested remedies other than limiting the number of units.  Chair Daine asked Rod if he was concerned with people going onto his property.  Rod replied that he is concerned with people going onto his property as well as the fact that the noise he makes will be complained about.  It has never been a problem in the past. There is no buffer, just the railroad track and the 20’ drop off.  Rod asked if there are other residences in the Industrial zone.  Jim replied that is why there is an application.

Vice Chair LeSage asked how many apartments were envisioned.  Alex replied that there may be 15-20 dorm rooms but she is unsure of how many other apartments.  Atty. Meier added that there is an estimated 60 with 15 per floor.  That is about 120 people.  Atty. Meier also stated that the conversations between Rod and Mr. Chapman will continue.  Vice Chair LeSage asked if they would consider a fence.  Atty. Meier replied that the drop off and a fence would be a buffer for people and perhaps the noise.  The neighborhood is changing.  The tracks are not servicing the factory anymore.  He is confident that he can work with Rod and his concerns.  Alex added that a fence has been discussed and they are willing to make the situation work for everyone.

Art Tighe told the Board that they are being asked to take an industrial area and change it to a residential use.  There is no real plan on the number of residential units.  He stated there needs to be a change of use and not a variance.  This needs to be changed to a commercial zone. There are no other industrial properties with residences on it.  There is a reason this is zoned industrial.  Jim added that it was historical. 

Rod added that in 2005, he had a 200’ buffer of pine trees put in and it cost him a half a million to protect his property.  He does not want to see all of the apartments there.

George asked Rod if he had insurance issues.  Rod replied that liability is a concern.  A fence would help but they can still access his property.  He added again that he does want to see something done with the building.

Nick Fischer, from the Hampton Inn, stated that bringing someone into that building creates a workforce.  This is a great town and a lot of students might stay.  He thinks this is a great use of the space.  If the fence and noise can be worked out, this will be a good thing for the community.  Right now there is no function for this building.

Andrew Dorsett stated that there is no noise ordinance or industrial ordinance. The Town is working with the rail trail project to be completed this year.  Andrew informed the Board that Joe Lahout and the Thayers have both voiced support for this project.  There is no factory looking to locate there and something needs to be done on this endof Town.  Andrew added that this is also about filling rooms for students’ families.  The college really has to happen and the State is working to ensure money is in the budget.  This project is not for low income housing.  If the Board does not grant approval, the applicant cannot pursue.  Rezoning the lot has been agreed on, but the opportunity might be lost if they have to wait.  Andrew noted that from a Town perspective, this is the highest and best use as he has heard from the public.

Chair Daine stated the college seems to be agreed on but perhaps limiting the number of dorms to one floor.  Janice Newton asked if the dorms would be for students only.  Alex replied that it could be for students and non-students.  The housing is earmarked for the students, but additional units if there are not enough students.

Andrew told the Board that this project is being worked on at a State level.  Ralph added that he is an advocate for affordable workforce housing in this Town and that there is so much land to be built on.  The idea of building them in the Industrial Zone is baffling. Ralph told Andrew that he needed to find contractors to build some housing. Andrew responded to say this building revitalization project already has the infrastructure.  New housing would require infrastructure work.

Chair Daine asked if there was a plan to put forward the request to rezone the property.  Andrew replied yes.  Art added that the applicant has to meet the hardship criteria and asked if they had done their due diligence.  The ZBA does not listen to economic reasons.  Rezoning is the right way and the buyer should have been aware of this.  Janice asked why the elementary school could not be relocated to this property.

Judith Marvin asked about if the variance for the rooms is granted but the money is not there.  Chair Daine stated the Board can restrict and do limitations.  Once it is given, they can add more residential.  Rod added that Mr. Chapman probably does not want to be a residential landlord.

Bruce Hadlock asked what happens if the property is sold after the variance is granted. Chair Daine explained that the variance goes with the property.  The Educational Facility and 12 units would stay.  The new owner would be able to continue the same use.  Ralph added that the new owner would need ZBA approval if they wanted to do something different that was not permitted.

David stated that they need an anchor tenant and the school is a good choice.  He asked if the residential units would be a deal breaker.  Alex replied that she could not say definitively and that they could come back with further developed plans.  The applicant needs to know this will work before moving forward.  Atty. Meier said interacting with the abutters concerns is key to this.  David suggested putting in the 12 units and then coming back.   Atty. Meier replied that doing so would not address the concerns.

Chair Daine stated that the zone change would make this application obsolete.  This is a very important decision for the community and perhaps it is not for 5 Board members.  George reminded everyone that they will need to come back to the Board for the remainder of the property unless it is a permitted use.  Ralph added that the first application could be approved but the rest denied.

Five minute recess.

Atty. Meier stated that nailing down the number of rooms will be part of the architectural design and site plan review.  Chair Daine clarified that Littleton does not have site plan review and no building permit is required for internal renovations.  Atty. Meier asked if the Board would grant 60 units and they would come back for a review.  Ralph asked if they will walk away if the Board denies their application.  Atty. Meier said it is possible.  Chair Daine stated that once the approval is granted, they are all done.  Jim stated that the Board could continue the hearing and request additional information.

The public input was closed.  Ralph made a motion to approve Chapman Littleton LLC, Owner / Attorney Christopher T. Meier, Agent – ZBA19-02 – Request for a Variance relating to Article IV, Section 4.02.06 of the Littleton Zoning Ordinance to allow an Educational Facility and Residential Housing at 24 Beacon Street, tax map 79-176, in the Industrial zone.  Vice Chair LeSage seconded the motion.  As a clarification, this motion was for the educational facility and up to 12 residential units.

The Board discussed the findings of the facts. 

  • The proposed would benefit the public by repurposing an old building and bringing in an employer. 
  • Rehabilitating a vacant industrial property is consistent with the surrounding uses. 
  • Repurposing an old building which has become in disarray.
  • The new use will not diminish property values. The current building has been vacant and vandalized.
  • With being zoned Industrial, the property is basically an island.  It meets the criteria of Hanson vs. Manning.

Atty. Meier called point of order.  He assured the Board that his client will work with the abutter regarding the installation of a buffer. 

The applicant must comply with all Federal, State, and Local regulations as well as install an agreed upon buffer. All Board members agreed with the findings of the facts and the motion passed by all.   

Ralph made a motion to deny Chapman Littleton LLC, Owner / Attorney Christopher T. Meier, Agent – ZBA19-03 – Request for a Variance relating to Article X, Section 10.01.03 of the Littleton Zoning Ordinance to allow more than 12 attached residential units at 24 Beacon Street, tax map 79-176, in the Industrial zone. There was no second.  The motion died.  The Board moved on to discuss the findings of the facts. 

This application is for more than 12 residential units. The application says 60 plus.  Jim stated an architectural plan would help with this.  David commented that they need feedback from the police and fire departments.  George added that they would need a plan.  Ralph stated that they will not be starting on this part for a while and the Board needs more information on the units and what is on the other floors over the school.  They can reapply when they have more information.  Atty. Meier called point of order. 

 

Chair Daine announced that the Board was going back into public session.  Atty. Meier informed the Board that the application ZBA19-03 was being withdrawn so that more information can be gathered.  A new application will be submitted when ready. 

 

The Board discussed the rehearing request for ZBA18-11.  Jim recused himself.  George will be a voter.  Ralph made a motion to grant the rehearing.  There was no second.  The motion died.  Vice Chair made a motion to deny the request.  George seconded the motion.  The motion passed 4-1 to deny the rehearing request. 

 

Review minutes - March 26, 2019.  David made a motion to approve the minutes as written.  Vice Chair LeSage seconded the motion.  The motion passed by all.  

At 8:25, Chair Daine made a motion to adjourn.  Vice Chair LeSage seconded the motion.  The motion passed by all.

Submitted by,

Joanna Ray