Saturday, March 8, 2014

Just say no, by Susan M. Newell

For two years, Winchester has contended with a former selectman, Gus Ruth, who just won’t accept that he can’t have his own way.
He has been one of the strongest activists for introducing government authority over private property rights (Aquifer Protection District, Forest Lake Overlay District, Steep Slopes Ordinance regarding subdivisions, the Conte Wildlife Refuge, and building the Conservation Commission’s treasure chest with land use change taxes, etc.).

Two years ago, Gus Ruth, Ken Harvey and spouses, bought at tax auction, 50 Rabbit Hollow Road, in a Rural Residential District. Against zoning, they used it as commercial property, renting it to a group that was loud and intrusive in the pastoral neighborhood. When challenged by the code enforcement officer, they had two lame excuses as to why they should be allowed to continue.
They claimed that the person who owned the property, before the town took it, had been illegally using it commercially (evidence seems otherwise) so they were grandfathered for illegal use. That didn’t hold water. They also claimed that because the digital property record card (accessible by many) mentioned commercial use, that misinformation (disinformation?) negated the law. Again that didn’t hold water. Then they went before the zoning board seeking a variance, but didn’t come close to meeting specific legal requirements.
So, they shut down the commercial operation.
But the story doesn’t end. Ruth and cohorts managed to get at least 25 signatures on a petitioned warrant article (Article 24) to change the zoning of 50 Rabbit Hollow Road (Map 9, Lot 23-3) to Commercial.
That constitutes “spot zoning” which was ruled illegal multiple times in New Hampshire Courts. According to New Hampshire Practice, Vol. 15, Land Use Planning and Zoning, Third Edition, Atty. Peter J. Loughlin (the handbook provided to local officials): “a court will find that a change has resulted in ‘spot zoning’ when the area is singled out for treatment from that of similar surrounding land which cannot be justified on the basis of health, safety, morals, or the general welfare of the community and is not in accordance with a comprehensive plan.”
If the warrant article fails, the subject is closed.
However, if it passes, Winchester taxpayers will face hefty legal bills. If the select board fails to implement illegal zoning that has been approved by the voters, Ruth and crew will likely bring a frivolous lawsuit against the town to force the change, and selectmen will have to defend against them. If selectmen implement the zoning change, despite its illegality, they will be sued by abutters, who will win. The only losers will be Ruth, et al., and the taxpayers.
It is odd, that while Ruth and the others are demanding exception from land use laws, for their exclusive benefit, it was stated at town meeting that Ruth submitted the petition for Article 22 to designate part of the Old Westport Road as a Scenic Road, in accordance with New Hampshire statutes. This is another one of those designations that requires landowners to jump through hoops with hearings, permits and approvals, and all the delays those entail, to receive a ruling on whether and how they may make minor landscaping changes to their own properties; and that also burdens the highway department with similar machinations just to remove overhanging limbs and maintain the road.
Winchester taxpayers, protect yourself from government overreach and unknown legal expenses by voting no on Articles 22 and 24, and in the process tell Ruth and his co-owners for one last time that no means no.
Susan M. Newell
3 Old Chesterfield Road


Anonymous said...

Maybe Mr. John Hadley should have another Keg fall on his head.. I do believe the loud and intrusive noise was coming from a home that had her rock climbing friends from Massachusetts come play, we all know Massachusetts folks have not respect for others.

Anonymous said...

** have NO, sorry for the mistype. Ms. Newell do you live in this neighboorhood to prove that the noise was coming for this property or are you taking the words of others and just repeating what they tell you?