Thursday, November 10, 2011

Winchester: Foot-dragging?

Group seeks rehearing on home’s fate.

WINCHESTER — The fight over the fate of a 200-year-old house in the town’s historic district is still going on — at least on one side of the debate.
At least two groups of residents have tried to get the town’s zoning board to rehear its recent decision to allow the demolition of the house.
So far, however, their arguments have been met with inaction by town officials.
A group of five property owners filed a written motion with the zoning board on Oct. 31, requesting the board hold a rehearing on its vote earlier that month to allow the demolition, overturning a previous decision by the town’s historic district commission.
In July, the commission rejected an application by The Zaremba Group, a developer hoping to purchase the property at 71 Main St. from the current owners and replace the house with a Dollar General store.
The house was the residence of physicians who served the town in the 1800s.
The New Hampshire Preservation Alliance included the building — now known in preservation circles as the Wheaton-Alexander House — on its “Seven to Save” list for 2011 after the zoning board’s vote.
Explaining its decision, the zoning board chairman said he believed it would cost the owner of the property more to fix up the house than it would to demolish it and build a new building.
But the board never asked how much building the Dollar General would cost, according to the 15-page motion for a rehearing filed on Oct. 31.
“As it stands, the cost of demolition and replacement is likely equal or greater than the cost to renovate the building,” Keene attorney Kelly Dowd wrote in the motion on behalf of the residents.
He also argued that no evidence has been presented that the house could not be rented as-is. It is now vacant, but in recent years it has been rental housing.
The zoning board received the motion but has not acted on it.
Meanwhile, on Nov. 2, members of the historic district commission asked the town’s board of selectmen to request a rehearing on the same decision, according to Julia Ferrari, vice chairwoman of the commission.
Under state statute, the selectmen, any party to a hearing or any person directly effected by a zoning board decision can ask for an appeal within 30 days of that decision, and that time limit is extended if the minutes from the meeting in question are not filed within five business days.
The members of the commission had been told they did not have the standing to ask for a rehearing themselves, Ferrari said, so instead they approached the selectmen with an “impassioned plea” in which they argued the zoning board had not given full weight to all the relevant facts in the case, including communications indicating that the house is eligible for the N.H. Register of Historic Places.
At the selectmen’s meeting on Nov. 2, Selectman Gustave Ruth moved that the board vote on the request, but the motion was not seconded.
Speaking after the meeting, Ruth explained that his fellow selectmen felt they didn’t have enough time before the 30-day time limit for appeal had expired to learn enough about the case.
But he also expressed skepticism that knowing the house could be on the state’s historic register would make any difference.
“Somebody has to apply to the historic register to register it, and that’s the owner,” he said.
Margaret A. Sharra, who sits on the town planning board and serves as an administrative assistant to the planning and zoning boards, owns the house with her brother, James S. Shannon of Winchester and Michael P. Shannon of Connecticut.
They want to sell the property to The Zaremba Group.
But Ferrari argued that the house’s historic value is still important.
“Just because an owner refuses to put it on the register does not mean it’s not historic,” she said. “It just means that they’re not cooperating.”
The next meeting of the zoning board is scheduled for Dec. 1.


I see a MAJOR conflict said...

I hope that other tax payers see the conflict of interest involved in all of this.

The board of selectman who are the employers of Margaret Sharra are weighing in on a personal matter.

Margaret Sharra who wrote the town's master plan is asking the town (HDC & ZBA) to ignore her rules - just for her.

This is just to name a few!

Anonymous said...

This will be headed to court soon, the ZBA really screwed the pooch on this one.