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Buffers, traffic concern neighbors

Hearing of Scott-Farrar assisted living facility continued to Wednesday

  • Attorney Tom Hanna of Keene describes the Scott-Farrar Home's plan for a 63-unit facility on Elm Street at a joint meeting of Peterborough's Zoning Board of Adjustment and Planning Board on Thursday.
  • Ed Despres, chair of the Board of Trustees of the Scott-Farrar Home, describes plans for expansion of the Elm Street facility at a joint meeting of Peterborough's Zoning Board of Adjustment and Planning Board on Monday.

31∕2-hour session Thursday at which the Zoning Board of Adjustment heard requests for a special exception and a variance and also listened to comments from neighbors, the ZBA continued its joint hearing with the Planning Board on the Scott-Farrar Home’s proposal to build a new facility on its Elm Street property until Wednesday.

The Board of Trustees of the assisted living home is proposing to build a new 73,000-square-foot building with 63 units — 18 for people with dementia, 20 assisted living units and 25 independent living units. The current brick building, which dates to 1957, is to be torn down and a 16-bay parking garage built in its place to house residents’ cars.

Both neighbors and members of the ZBA expressed concern that the plan calls for using an empty section of the property along the Nubanusit River for occasional overflow parking. The overall plan calls for 72 parking spaces for staff, residents and visitors. The overflow lot, which would remain unpaved, could hold 15 additional vehicles.

Attorney Tom Hanna of Keene, representing Scott-Farrar, said that while Peterborough’s zoning regulations would allow 100 parking spaces for a building of the size that is planned, Scott-Farrar is only asking for 72 spaces.

“That will be sufficient except for the occasional special event,” Hanna said, mentioning Christmas, Thanksgiving and Mother’s Day as times when the home might get large numbers of visitors and employees would be asked to use the overflow parking area.

“The overflow lot is needed for this project,” Hanna said. “It is grandfathered. It is legally nonconforming. It will be used only occasionally.”

Hanna said the Scott-Farrar Board of Trustees might be willing to adjust the request to use the overflow space.

“If it’s important to the board, we would consider reducing the size,” he said. “It seems to be important. I don’t think we want to die in that battle... We’re willing to compromise.”

On Nov. 2, 28 residents of the Elm Street and Union Street neighborhoods sent a four-page letter to the Zoning Board. They wrote that the scale of the expansion would be “a significant departure from the architectural scale of buildings on nearby premises” and asked the board to investigate what analyses were used to arrive at the 63-unit number. They also said the appraisal reports submitted by Scott-Farrar didn’t include the impact of the development on the properties across the Nubanusit River and suggested a third-party appraisal be done.

On Thursday, Hanna said the Scott-Farrar board had been responsive to the concerns of neighbors. “We just haven’t heard from this group until recently,” he said, referring to the signers of the letter.

He denied that the plan had been designed to ask for a large number of units with the expectation that it could be scaled down.

“As far as size, that was determined by the need to sustain the facility,” Hanna said. “Sixty-three is the number. There’s never been another numbers. We weren’t shooting high.”

Residents who spoke Thursday had mixed reactions to the plan.

“This is very large for a neighborhood that is almost all single-family residence,” said Robert Wood of Union Street, as he suggested an independent appraisal of the impact on property values.

Matt Waitkins of Union Street had concerns about the overflow parking area, which he said is quite visible from Union Street backyards.

“My first choice would be to see it eliminated,” he said. “My second choice would be to set limits. It’s vague. I don’t want to see it morph into employee parking.”

Waitkins also suggested additional screening to protect the views from Union Street.

But Posy Bass, who lives on Elm Street across from the overflow parking area, said it was very infrequently used. She was more concerned about traffic, saying she hoped the ZBA and Planning Board might be able to address sight lines at the top of the hill on Elm Street where the front entrance to the new facility would be located.

“It’s an opportunity to enhance the neighborhood,” Bass said.

The ZBA never began deliberations on the requests for a special exception and a variance, instead scheduling a site visit and continuing the hearing until Wednesday.

ZBA member Maude Salinger said Monday that ZBA members walked the entire site for about two hours Saturday, accompanied by some neighbors and members of the Scott-Farrar board. She said they looked at the proposed overflow parking area, studied the traffic sight lines down Elm Street and went to Union Street to look at the view of the site from residences there.

The continuation of the joint public hearing will be Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the Town House. At that time, the ZBA is expected to hear any new information from the applicant or abutters and then begin deliberations on the special exception and variance requests.

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