Planning & Zoning Board Notices & Minutes

Mar 11, 2020

Draft Zoning Board Minutes - February 25, 2020


LITTLETON ZONING BOARD OF ADJUSTMENT
LITTLETON COMMUNITY CENTER, HEALD ROOM
120 MAIN STREET
LITTLETON, NH 03561
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 25, 2020
6:00 PM

Draft

 

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

Excused: David Rochefort

Others present: Chris Gulick, Kenneth Gulick, Don Bouchard, Cathy Conway, Dan Hebert, Tom Smith, Mike Carbonneau, Colin Trahan, Mike Norman, Bruce Hadlock, Val Poulsen, Dianne Poulsen, Tom Alt, Art Tighe, Doug Damko, Tom Considine, James Mason, Leslie Robbins, and Robert Blechl

Chair Daine called the meeting to order.  George Morgan will be a voting member for this meeting.

Kenneth & Chris Gulick, Owners – ZBA20-02 – Request for a Variance relating to Article V, Section 5.01 of the Littleton Zoning Ordinance to allow a 10’ side setback at 9 Elm Street, tax map 78-26, in the C-I zone. The application was accepted as complete. There were no conflicts noted with the board members.  Chair Daine read the information supplied by the applicants.

  1. The variance will not be contrary to the public interest because we are a local business building a commercial building on a commercial lot using municipal services. No negative impact on area, rather a gain to the community utilizing the land for business.
  2. The variance is consistent with the spirit of the ordinance because there was a building that existed on the lot before leaving a cellar hole. It is the exact location we want to put our building.
  3. Substantial justice is done because the lot will be used as a commercial use. We would be putting our office in the same location as what originally was there.
  4. The value of surrounding properties will not be diminished because by putting a commercial building and running my business there should be an increase in the value of all the area businesses and community.
  5. Literal enforcement of the ordinance would result in unnecessary hardship because everything is there and available and by having to move it may result in too expensive to do.  
    1. No fair and substantial relationship exists between the general purpose of the Zoning Ordinance and the specific restriction on the property because the sewer and water lines are at the cellar hole. It would seem reasonable to be able to build at that location.
    2. The proposed use is a reasonable one because there had been an existing building there and by putting our 26’ x 36’ professional office building it would enhance the lot.

Chris Gulick explained that she does hearing aid testing and is currently at 33 Main Street in Littleton. Moving to a new location will allow her to hire someone to help. She currently works two day a week and wants to increase it to fulltime. The building location is basically in the same location as the previous building. Ken Gulick said the cellar foundation was stone and you can see where the sewer line comes in.

Ralph Hodgman asked if a full foundation would be poured. Chris replied yes. Vice Chair LeSage asked about parking on site. Ken replied that a great deal of parking is not needed and would be about 4-6 spaces around the back of the building.

Ralph Hodgman asked if the supplied sketch was drawn to scale. Chris replied no.  The location of the building was discussed. Chris explained that she is waiting on bids and is considering stick built or a prefab modular.  The floorplan was submitted with the building permit application.

Chris explained how long an appointment can last and figures there would be no more than five per day. Generally, there will be a car in the parking lot for the current client and then a second one for the next appointment.

Jim asked why this location was chosen. Ken replied that the building before was about the same size and the sewer came in at that location. Keeping this location allows him to retain the stone wall on the upper side of the lot. Jim asked if they would be digging the old stone foundation out. Ken replied that the stone was already removed. Jim stated that he sees 30’ available on the other side of the building.  Ralph Hodgman also noted that there was space to move the building over. Chris replied that there are two stone walls. One is the property line and the other she would like to keep. It would have to come out to provide parking if the building was to be moved. It would be expensive. Ralph Hodgman replied that the Board cannot look at cost. Chair Daine stated that a violation would still exist if the building was rotated. Ralph Hodgman added that the lot size was not conforming to the Zoning Ordinance. Joanna replied that the lot is pre-existing and does not require a variance. Jim did not see the hardship for the 10’ when there is room on the other side. Ralph Hodgman noted that they could not park if the building is moved. Chair Daine stated that this is a reasonable size building and the dimensions of the lot makes it unique.  It is not very big for a commercial lot. Nearly every commercial use on the lot would not meet the required setbacks. Therefore, the size of the lot is restricting the size of the building. Ralph Hodgman added that he sees it fitting as it is shown and that there is no other way to get onto the lot than the current driveway entrance.

There were no attendees wishing to speak in favor or in opposition of the application. Chair Daine closed the public input.  Chair Daine stated that a commercial building is expected to go there and there wasn’t anyone opposing it. It is right off of Main Street. Ralph Hodgman added that it would remove the current eyesore. Chair Daine stated that by not granting the variance, space needs to be taken from the other side and cutting the building size is not realistic. Ralph Hodgman added that the shape of the lot and only one way in would make it hard for the applicants to move it. Nothing else will fit there. Chair Daine did not think there was anything unreasonable about the request. Jim added that he feels the building can be moved over or rotated. George agreed with Jim. Parking can be on the Elm Street side of the building. Ralph Hodgman replied that the Elm Street side of the lot has a significant drop and will need a retaining wall. George added that they will have to bring in fill to drive around the building.

Everyone was still in attendance so Chair Daine opened up the public input.  The case file noted a concern from abutter Arthur Arnold.  No additional comments regarding runoff was made. Chair Daine added that rotating the building will bring it closer to the 25’ requirement. Chris replied that it will not look as attractive and the front of the building will be facing the side. Part of the business is how to present it. Her contractor thought this was a good idea.

Bruce Hadlock recommended that the applicant remember there needs to be handicap access and they need a driveway permit from the Town. Bruce added that there is a brook going through there and it could be expensive.

The public input was closed. Ralph Hodgman made a motion to approve the request of Chris and Kenneth Gulick, ZBA20-02, for a 10’ side setback based on the discussed findings of the facts. The applicants must comply with all Federal, State, and Local regulations. Chair Daine seconded the motion. The motion passed 3-2.  The applicant was informed of the 30-day appeal period.

6:40 PM

Granite Senior Services LLC, Owner / Daniel Hebert Inc., Applicant – ZBA20-03 – Request for a Special Exception relating to Article IV, Section 4.02.04 of the Littleton Zoning Ordinance to allow a Nursing Home / Elderly Congregate Care Facility at 1262 St. Johnsbury Road, tax maps 74-2 & 74-3, in the Rural zone. The application was accepted as complete. No conflicts were noted.

Don Bouchard (Horizons Engineering) presented. He was accompanied by Cathy Conway, Daniel Hebert (agent for the applicant), James Mason, and Tom Smith (surveyor for the project).  Lots 2 and 3 will have assisted living memory care in the large building. Three different levels of care are offered. There are 55 parking spaces for it. Some parking will be under the building. There are approximately 12 multi-family units on the site with looped access and 2 cul de sacs. Access is off Route 18. Water and sewer also off of Route 18.  He has been discussing the project with Littleton Water & Light (LW&L) as well as Waste Water. Don handed the Board sketches of the unit layouts. Elevations of the assisted living was also produced.  Each of the multi-family units, towards the back of the site, have a garage on either side. These are considered independent living units and will look like a villa.  The larger building is assisted living that is a 3-story building, two above grade and one below for the parking. There will also be a gym and indoor pool.

Jim asked if the parking under the building is for the people working there. Don, they are for the apartments above.

Done stated there are no existing utilities.  Don is aware of the water pressure issues and some storage issues that will be dealt with on-site.  Water could be stored on-site similar to Littleton Hospital. The sewer will need to be pumped to make a connection up by the Hospital and then gravity fed to a pump station by Brickyard Road. He will be looking at what needs to be done to that pump station to either upgrade or make sure the load will be acceptable. Don stated that utilities in the NHDOT right-of-way need to be owned by the Town. His client is willing to take on the maintenance and is working with LW&L, Waste Water and the Town on that. A driveway permit and trench permit will be needed from NHDOT. He has been in contact with Alex Thompson regarding this.  Services can be made to the site so that nothing will affect the Town directly in regards to cost. Lighting will be pointed to the ground. The goal is to have to have no increase in lighting to the property line. Staff is working to make sure there is no light pollution across the property line. Don is aware that other permits will be required such as an AoT, wetlands, Army Corp. permit, and a storm water permit.

The next exhibit identified the lots being located in the Rural zone. Route 18 is in front and Interstate 93 is in the back. To the west is the Eversource lot and the Great River Hydro. To the east are wooded lots with a conservation easement. The abutter from lots 4 and 5 submitted a letter of support. Don stated the plan is to keep a residential setting and a quiet place to live. Elder Care facilities do not generate noise. The property is very close to another zone where this use is allowed.

There were no abutters present in support or opposition of the proposal. Val Poulsen asked where the property is in relation to the Masonic Temple. Don replied that the Masonic Temple is on lot 3 and will be removed.

Chair Daine stated that there was a site visit on February 22, 2020. Four board members were present to see the location of the project. The site visit notice was posted and the file contains signatures of the Board members that attended.

Schuyler Sweet spoke in favor of the project siting that it is needed in Littleton and this is a fantastic location. It will not hurt the tax base.

Bruce Hadlock asked if a variance would be needed and if so, what would the hardship be. Chair Daine clarified that the first application is for a special exception to allow the Nursing Home/Elder Care and then a second application for a variance to allow medical offices. A special exception does not have the hardship criteria.

Ralph Hodgman asked if this project would be taxable. Don replied yes. This is a for profit business.

Bruce Hadlock informed the Board that this property has a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) and was concerned that this project would as well. Chair Daine stated this project will increase the need for services.  Joanna informed the Board that it was her understanding the PILOT was removed and that taxes would be paid.

Chair Daine noted that there were no comments from the Fire or Police Chiefs.

Doug Damko, Littleton Public Works Director, informed the Board that he met with Horizons and reviewed the project. The Town can serve the project. An analysis will need to be done to look at the pump station on Brickyard Road. He was not concerned about the capacity at the Waste Water Treatment Center. This is just domestic waste. Doug also stated that this is not unreasonable. An Industrial Discharge Permit will be required and will have special conditions.

Vice Chair LeSage asked how many people would live there if at full capacity? Don replied that the breakdown is on the submitted plan. The memory care has 12-24 beds, assisted living has 24 beds, and the independent care apartments have 33 beds. LeSage also asked how much this would impact the Town sewer. Don replied that it is estimated at 13,000-15,000 gallons per day. This has been shared with Doug Damko. Doug said the treatment plant was designed back in the 1960’s. An analysis needs to be done. He believes an upgrade was done in the 1990’s. Bruce added that it was at the same time sewer bills came out as well as the sewer user fee. Doug stated that he spoke with Utility Partners and they did not have a concern in terms of their immediate capacity. Don stated that groundwater will not be going into the sewer system.

Tom Considine, LW&L Manager, informed the Board that power is not an issue. There will be major hurdles with the water. The system out there now was for the hospital. Time and money can address the need. Right now, the existing system will not support their load without modifications. LW&L is working with them.

Bruce Hadlock asked about impact fees with this project. Art Tighe asked what fees Bruce was referring to. Bruce replied that an example is when people add a bathroom there is an impact fee. Doug stated that hooking into the Town sewer requires a connection fee. Tom Considine stated that there is a fee to add capacity to the system. Don Bouchard replied that he is prepared for that.

Leslie Robbins asked how many people will be working there. Don replied that the memory care building would be 25-30 with an additional 7 for administration. Don gave a breakdown of all the employees that would be on site. Don added that snow plowing and lawn care will be handled with staff.  They will also be taking on the maintenance of the pipes in the road to the connection points. Working with Doug and Tom.

Bruce Hadlock asked if the hospital had a contract on their water line. Tom replied not to his knowledge. LW&L maintains the system. George Morgan asked if the hospital had any concerns. Tom replied that there is a set amount of fire flow for what the hospital needed. Bruce added that homes in that area will have better insurance rates if there is a hydrant out there.

Jim McMahon asked if people that do not live at the facility will be able to use the medial facility. Don replied that the residents, as well as others not living there, will have access to the medical facilities. Don will address that question in more detail during the variance hearing.

Ralph Hodgman asked if there would be a shuttle service for the residents. Don replied that some of the residents will have their own car. Ralph noted the Littleton Senior Center has a shuttle but this facility is far out of Town. James Mason replied that there will be a shuttle.

The public input was closed. The Board discussed the findings of facts. The size of the lots makes this appropriate. No proof that property values would be decreased. It is still residential living representative of the North Country atmosphere.  There will be nuisance because this facility is for elderly and will be quiet. There will be minimal lighting. All of the potential impacts are being addressed. The facility will be served by municipal water, sewer, and electricity. They will have fulltime gardener, security, maintenance, and security on site.

Everyone was still present, the public input was open again. Jim inquired about the business hours. Don replied that there would be three shifts of employees. Vice Chair LeSage asked if the on-site security would be 24/7. Don replied that there will be limited security 24 hours a day.

Bruce Hadlock asked if young people would be living there. Don replied that the intent is for retired people. As they get older, assisted care and memory care is offered. They are not looking for families. Bruce asked what would happen if the facility is sold. Chair Daine replied that the use cannot be changed to regular housing without additional approval.

The public input was closed again. Vice Chair LeSage made a motion to approve, based on the discussed facts, Granite Senior Services LLC, Owner / Daniel Hebert Inc., Applicant – ZBA20-03 – Request for a Special Exception relating to Article IV, Section 4.02.04 of the Littleton Zoning Ordinance to allow a Nursing Home / Elderly Congregate Care Facility at 1262 St. Johnsbury Road, tax maps 74-2 & 74-3, in the Rural zone with the condition that the applicant comply with all Federal, State, and Local regulations. George Morgan seconded the motion. The motion passed by all.

Granite Senior Services LLC, Owner / Daniel Hebert Inc., Applicant – ZBA20-04 – Request for a Variance relating to Article IV, Section 4.02.04 of the Littleton Zoning Ordinance to allow Offices and Medical facilities at 1262 St. Johnsbury Road, tax maps 74-2 & 74-3, in the Rural zone.  The application was accepted as complete.

Don Bouchard presented a handout of building sketches. He read the questions and answers from the application. The proposed is in close proximity to a zone that allows medical facilities. This will not be urgent or emergency care. The facilities will be for appointments or walk-in. Having the medical facilities on-site will reduce the traffic in and out of the property. Don added that this accessory use to the residents is critical to providing a full service campus. The Master Plan shows that the Littleton area is in need of more elderly independent care homes. The project is a residential site development consisting of residential housing for the elderly population. The medical facilities are an accessory use of the project. Medical facilities are allowed by special exception in the R-2 zone which is only a few hundred feet to the east of the project site. The medical facilities within this development will assist the effort in expanding the Town as a regional center for healthcare opportunities for the elderly living in a single on-site campus. The variance would do substantial justice as the Master Plan for Littleton specifically mentions the shortage of elderly housing and health care for residents. Property values will not be diminished as the major use of the project site will still be residential. The medical facilities are a critical accessory to the main use of the site. Not granting the proposed variance would pose an unnecessary hardship as medical care for residents and administration in association with the allowed use could not be completed, rendering the allowed use non-viable as proposed. Medical facilities are incidental to the major objective of the project, which is to provide additional residential housing for the elder population in the area and provide alternative health care choices for the residents of the housing facility.

Chair Daine asked if this would be only for the residents on-site. Don replied that the medical facilities would be available to those living on-site and off. It would be hard to enforce if it was only for the residents on-site.  Vice Chair LeSage asked if medical facilities would be part of the staff for the residents.  Don replied no. The doctors in these medical buildings would rent or lease the space. In order to make this business model work, the general public needs to be allowed to use these doctors. The main focus is to provide care to the residents on site. George Morgan asked if the residents were obligated to use these doctors. Don replied no. Jim McMahon noted that there would only be so many appointments with the 80-100 residents. Ralph Hodgman stated that there are other elderly living facilities without on-site medical offices. Ralph added that the hospital is just up the road and transportation services will be offered. Don replied that some of the other elderly living facilities are in close proximity to medical offices. To make this model work in the upscale living, this is needed. Ralph asked if the residential living would work without the medical offices on-site. Don replied that the special exception was granted and now the accessory use is needed.  Ralph stated that people are used to traveling for appointments. Don replied that this business model works with the medical offices on-site. Ralph added that he likes this project but does not see the hardship. Don stated this business model offers these residents medical options on-site.

Chair Daine read RSA 674:33. Similar that there are no feasible alternatives to the proposed property may make it unique thus although that a parcel of land may be similar to the surrounding properties in terms of its general characteristics it may still be unique for the purpose of a hardship considering the light of what is being referenced. The zoning restrictions interfere with the reasonable use of the property considering the unique setting of the property in its environment. The Board just agreed to the special exception. Now there is a piece of property with an elderly nursing home on it and that is unique. The hardship is that this is needed for the elderly care facility. Ralph replied that special conditions are to be found in the property itself and not in the individual plight of the applicant. Vice Chair LeSage replied that the medical facility is needed in order to make this work.  Jim stated that the elderly will need to get to a medical facility. Putting them next door to each other makes sense to Jim.

No abutters were present wanting to speak in favor or against the project. Others were offered the chance to speak. Bruce Hadlock pointed out that there is an average 20-25 vacancies in commercial uses that are still paying taxes. He asked if it was a hardship to put in a business when there are individuals already trying to make a living. He was not convinced there was a hardship for that reason. Jim asked if the hospital was added to the zoning for that reason.

Leslie Robbins asked about the details of the medical offices. How many parking spaces? This section does not look very residential. What size are the buildings and how many stories? Don replied that there are three office spaces. The first is 53,000 sq. ft. with two levels. Due to the grades, there are two levels. There will be lower and upper parking. The second is about 10,000 sq. ft. that will share parking in the front. The smaller building is 4500 sq. ft. with its own parking in the front. There are 52 parking spaces in the lower area with some handicap. The upper has 112 spaces plus some for handicap. The smaller has 20 parking spaces with three handicap. Don added that the spaces might be decreased some based on the final design. Leslie noted that there will be an increase in traffic. Jim McMahon asked if there was an estimate of how many would be coming in from offsite. Don replied that it is estimated that 60-75% would be on-site. Bruce Hadlock stated that those numbers are wrong. Don replied that the parking will go with the size of the building. This facility will be made to fit on this lot. This is not urgent care.

George noted that the application says Planning Board action is needed. Joanna replied that it is called a subdivision for additional sites. Jim asked if the lots would be merged. Joanna replied yes.

Tom Smith noted that this is a tried and true business model. It has been successful in other areas.

Don figures that there will be about 35 employees on-site. Mike Carbonneau added that he agrees with this tried and true business model and it works. Ralph stated that Littleton has a hospital and urgent care and not enough people to fill those positions. His opinion is that these medical offices will be satellite to a doctor’s office open one day a week.

Chair Daine stated that the Supreme Court of NH held that the courts definition of undue hardship had become too restrictive in light of the Constitutional protections from which is was tempered, i.e., the right to acquire possess and protect property under the NH Constitution and decided to depart from the restrictive approach that had defined unnecessary hardship and adopted an approach more considerate of the Constitutional right to enjoy property. Hence, applicants for a variance could establish unnecessary hardship by proof that (1) a zoning restriction as applied to their property interferes with the reasonable use of the property, considering the unique setting of the property in its environment, (2) no fair and substantial relationship exists between the general purposes of the zoning ordinance and the specific restriction on the property, and (3) the variance would not injure the public or private rights of others.  It could be argued that they are being restricted from using the property reasonable. The elderly home is appropriate. This application is a sub for the needs of the residents. Don added that this is an accessory to the primary use that was granted under the special exception. Ralph replied that this law exactly fits this application.

The public input was closed. The Board reviewed the findings of the facts. The variance will not be contrary to the public interest because this is an auxiliary service that supports the elderly/nursing home. George stated that wording it that way sounds like it is only for the nursing home. This is a separate facility. Chair Daine replied that although this supplements the nursing home, it does not restrict others using the medical offices. Ralph stated that this is not really an accessory to the facility. Chair Daine stated that the Board approved a nursing facility and are now hearing that the medical facility is being requested. Jim stated it is like on-site service. Chair Daine said the Littleton community will not be harmed by approving this facility.  The variance is consistent with the spirit of the ordinance because the use is compatible with others in the area and meets Town goals. Substantial justice is done because the Littleton Master Plan notes the shortage of elderly housing and health care for residents. The value of surrounding properties will not be diminished because the layout offers buffering with trees. Ralph noted that there are no abutters present with concerns. Chair Daine referenced a letter of support from an abutter. Literal enforcement of the ordinance would result in unnecessary hardship based on the discussion in the paragraph above citing a section from RSA 674:33. The proposed use is a reasonable one because it provides on-site services.

Vice Chair LeSage made a motion to approve, based on the discussed facts, Granite Senior Services LLC, Owner / Daniel Hebert Inc., Applicant – ZBA20-04 – Request for a Variance relating to Article IV, Section 4.02.04 of the Littleton Zoning Ordinance to allow Offices and Medical facilities at 1262 St. Johnsbury Road, tax maps 74-2 & 74-3, in the Rural zone with the condition that the applicant comply with all Federal, State, and Local regulations. Ralph seconded the motion.  The motion passed 4-1.

The applicant was informed of the appeal period.

Chair Daine announced that the Board received a letter from Attorney Earl Duval, agent for the applicant regarding the Battery Energy Storage Facility. The letter stated his client’s request to withdraw the application for case ZBA19-12. Ralph asked for confirmation that the application would need to start all over again if they come back. Chair Daine confirmed that and made a motion to accept the letter. Jim seconded the motion. The motion passed 4-0.

Review of minutes:

September 10, 2019

December 10, 2019

January 14, 2020 – Jim requested clarification that he mentioned “the culvert along the access road was under the wall”. Jim also wanted a clarification that he mentioned new technologies move faster than our ordinances and should be looked at the Selectboard and Planning Board.

Chair Daine made a motion to approve the three sets of minutes with the suggested edits. Vice Chair LeSage seconded the motion.  The motion passed by all.

At 8:45 PM, Ralph made a motion to adjourn. Vice Chair LeSage seconded the motion. The motion passed by all.

 

Submitted by,

Joanna Ray