Planning & Zoning Board Notices & Minutes

May 26, 2015

Approved Zoning Board Minutes May 26, 2015

TUESDAY, MAY 26, 2015
6:00 PM

Present: Vice Chair Sean Sweeney, Jessica Daine, Heidi Hurley, Jerry LeSage, Guy Harriman, and Joanna Ray (recording secretary)

Excused: Chairman Eddy Moore

Others: Chris Hodge (Zoning Officer), Gardner Kellogg, Roger Merrill, John Revilla, and Rita St. Arnauld

Vice Chair Sweeney called the meeting to order at 6:00 and designated Jerry LeSage and Guy Harriman as voting members for this meeting.

Minutes from April 28, 2015
Jessica Daine made a motion to approve the minutes. Jerry LeSage second the motion. The motion passed 5-0.

Roger E. Merrill, property owner / John R. Revilla, applicant – ZBA15-05 – Request for a Variance relating to Article IV, Section 4.02.01 of the Littleton Zoning Ordinance to allow a commercial establishment (Credit Union) at 218 Dells Rd, tax map 76-17, in the R-I zone.

John Revilla, a Northern Lights Credit Union member and consultant, presented. John was accompanied by Roger Merrill, current owner of 218 Dells Rd, and Rita St. Arnauld from NLCU. Also present was Gardner Kellogg. Gardner prepared the site plan. John stated that they have been renting at their current location, 240 Dells Rd, for almost 20 years and have become an established presence in the Town. John said the building the Credit Union is in is for sale and they have been unable to come to an agreement to purchase it. Roger Merrill’s property is for sale and John thought this would be a good place to relocate because it is right next door. The elevation is higher than some of the other properties in the area.

John Revilla stated that the proposed use is better for this lot because directly across the street is the NHDOT garage. The busy garage and truck traffic make this lot unattractive for a residence. There will not be any additional traffic than there is now at the Credit Union. The hours will be 8 AM to 5 PM Monday through Friday and Saturday morning. There are plans for an addition to the rear of the building. The design will look like a country home with a country porch on the front. John met with abutter Mrs. Gilbert and she did not have any issues. John offered to provide arborvitae screening between the properties and she told him she would think about it.

John Revilla discussed the submitted application responses:

  • The variance will not injure the public or private rights of others because the proposed use will not add additional traffic, as the Credit Union has been on Dells Road for nearly two decades occupying lease space at the adjoining property. The existing structure (ranch house) will be used as the main entrance and primary square footage of the Credit Union. The addition will be added to the rear of the structure on the interstate side. In addition the Credit Union is willing to plant screening for the adjoining property if they desire. The Credit Union will remodel the exterior with new siding and provide well maintained green spaces for appearance and to allow for rain and snow melt percolation. 
  • The ordinance provides for flexibility through the variance process. This lot abuts current commercial real estate and has a DOT facility across the street. The lot has significant road frontage and depth and the requested use of the property provides for a good fit in a residential/commercial area. The Credit Union will not add to the noise level in the area and the hours of operation are 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM Mon – Fri and 8:30 AM to 12:00 PM on Saturdays.
  • It will allow the property to be used in an appropriate manner and will result in an improved service to the community from a member owned financial co-operative. Additional space will allow the Credit Union to build on its long tradition of financial education and service.
  • The values of surrounding properties will not be negatively impacted, as this area is already a predominately commercial neighborhood. Adjoining roads also have many commercial properties. 
  • We believe the zoning ordinances as they exist interfere with the landowners reasonable use of the property in that the property is already abutted by commercial property on one side and a large NH State owned DOT facility with heavy truck use across the street.

In sight of this property is the interstate, NHDOT, CPA Firm, current Credit Union location, Walgreens, and Union Bank. With the intent of zoning to be the grouping of compatible uses with each other we believe this is a good fit for this property. The proposed enhancement to the property will add to the attractiveness of the property and contribute to a positive overall neighborhood appearance.

This property is ideally suited to be used as a commercial property based on its physical location, neighboring properties, proximity to other commercial properties and contour of land. Without the variance the property will not be able to be used in its best reasonable use. With DOT and related heavy truck traffic it makes the location less attractive as a residential property yet ideal for a commercial property of this type.

Gardner Kellogg presented the site plan. The current building and the proposed addition are not in the low land area. John Revilla stated he spoke with George McNamara about a second driveway and he told John that it would be good. The trees will remain in the front and only one tree in the back would be removed. Gardner stated that a test pit was dug and it is bank run gravel. There is a culvert that flows to the other side of the street and there is an 18” drop on the other side. The project will stay on the height of the land. There is a swale area on the property for a water line. Roger Merrill said rain collects there but it always drains. John stated that the property is within the 500 year flood zone.

Roger Merrill agreed that this use would be a good fit for this lot. The right-of-way on this portion of Dells Road is 100’. Roger stated that he believes the area had a vision of being commercial with this large right-of-way.

Vice Chair Sweeney stated he did not dispute the fact that the proposed in general is a good use. A variance is the hardest to ask for. It is essentially asking the board to change the zoning map. The hardship criteria is difficult to prove. The question is what would make this property unusable. Just because it is next to a commercial use does not cut it because then the next property can say the same thing and it keeps going. The ordinance draws that line. Other commercial uses in the area does not make this lot unique. Vice Chair Sweeney said that he does not see how this meets the hardship criteria. John Revilla asked how the other bank was allowed. No current board member was on the board at that time. Vice Chair Sweeney said he is not against the proposal, but the board needs to look at the ordinance and criteria needs to be met. The board cannot change what the voters have established. A town vote to change the zone is a different process. The board had a previous case for a commercial use in a residential zone but the applicant could not prove any hardship. The land could be used for what it was zoned for. It is hard to prove it cannot be used as a residence. Roger Merrill said the house has been vacant for 3 years. Vice Chair Sweeney said moving the commercial zone further up the street is beyond the board’s authority. John Revilla stated the property is less than desirable for being a residence. John also stated that they are only looking for approval to have the Credit Union at this site. Any other commercial uses would have to come back before the board.

Chris Hodge asked if the Credit Union could stay in their current location. John Revilla replied that it would be financially burdensome. Chris stated it would affect the community. Vice Chair Sweeney stated that board could not consider their financial concerns. Rita St. Arnauld asked the board if the burden of proof is on the applicant. Vice Chair Sweeney replied that the applicant needs to show why this lot cannot be used as a residence. John commented that the house has been vacant for 3 years. It cannot be sold or rented because of the NHDOT across the street. John feels that this is a hardship.
Jerry LeSage said he agreed with Vice Chair Sweeney yet he also disagreed. Jerry felt the town is creating a hardship on the Credit Union and Roger Merrill for not being able to sell it. John Revilla stated the property is unique due to its proximity to NHDOT.

John Revilla stated that the Credit Union will have a broader education component that needs more space than their location. Moving out of the area will have an impact on the community. Guy Harriman asked if the educational component was federal. John replied that is was a state and federal component. Rita St. Arnauld asked if a precedent was set when the Union Bank was approved. Vice Chair Sweeney replied no.

Jessica Daine stated that she sees Vice Chair Sweeney’s justification, but she also sees the other side. The Board reviewed the submitted findings of the facts. A person is allowed to apply for a variance and the board needs to find a reason to grant or deny. There is no one present to voice concerns regarding property values. There will be minimum impact to the general public and the building will continue to look like a house. Literal enforcement of the ordinance could result in Roger Merrill not being able to sell his property. If the Credit Union is unable to purchase their current building, they might have to move out of the area. Jessica stated that just because the ordinance says it is not allowed, that does not mean the board cannot approve it. Jerry LeSage stated that if there was someone opposed to the project, they should be present. Chris Hodge said there will be community hardship if the Credit Union leaves the area.

John Revilla presented plans of what the building will look like. The design fits the neighborhood and it will be ADA compliant. There will be a conference and community room. The basement will remain unoccupied. The back part will be on a slab. After 5:00 PM, it will look like a house. John said it would be a hardship if the Credit Union is not allowed to use this property.

Vice Chair Sweeney closed the public input. Heidi Hurley noted that the parking is good. Jessica Daine noticed that banks are not listed in the table of uses. Joanna Ray told Jessica that the proposed use is under “commercial establishment”. Jerry LeSage pointed out that the bank on Cottage Street is in a heavily residential area. Guy Harriman stated that his concerns were addressed in the presentation. Vice Chair Sweeney stated that, in his opinion, the applicant did not prove any unnecessary hardship or how the land is unsuitable under the current zoning ordinance. Heidi asked what would happen if another applicant came in for the same use. Vice Chair Sweeney stated he would like to see the Credit Union stay, but the board needs to look at the required criteria and not how the business is a Good Samaritan. The board should not look at how a business will leave town if the approval is not granted. That is above and beyond what the board should be considering.

John Revilla said there is commercial uses and an interstate surrounding it. Vice Chair Sweeney asked why this property is unique and cannot be used as a residence. Roger Merrill asked if he was limited to selling the property as a residence unless the voters change the zone. Vice Chair Sweeney pointed out that the zoning ordinance states what is allowed for the residential zone as well as the special exceptions. Jessica Daine stated that some lots in town need to be rezoned.

Jerry LeSage made a motion to approve without prejudice Roger E. Merrill, property owner / John R. Revilla, applicant – ZBA15-05 – Request for a Variance relating to Article IV, Section 4.02.01 of the Littleton Zoning Ordinance to allow a commercial establishment (Credit Union) at 218 Dells Rd, tax map 76-17, in the R-I zone based on the information submitted. The approval is only for a Credit Union. Jessica Daine seconded the motion. The motion passed 3-2. No conditions were added.

The applicant was informed of the 30 day appeal period.

At 7:00 Guy Harriman made a motion to adjourn. Jerry LeSage second the motion. The motion passed 5-0.

Submitted by,
Joanna Ray