Quarry petition rehearing nixed
Town, KMO decide not to rehash issue
FITZWILLIAM — After reaching a last-minute agreement with the Fitzwilliam Select Board, KMO Associates LLC of Fitchburg, Mass., chose not to pursue a rehearing of a defeated petition warrant article related to a historic granite quarry Monday night .
The investment firm, owned by Aaron E. Olson of Rindge, had filed a motion for rehearing with the Select Board on April 10, asking the town to reconsider Olson’s failed petition seeking to make quarry reclamation a new and permitted use in Fitzwilliam’s rural/residential district.
Olson’s family owns the Webb Hill Granite Quarry located between the residential areas of Webb Hill Road and East Lake Road. The last time that stone was commercially removed from the site was in the 1930s, according to town officials.
At the March 12 elections, voters overwhelming shot down the petition article, with 455 No votes to 129 Yes votes.
But the large crowd of residents that came out to the Town Hall on Monday night for the rehearing was surprised to learn that one wouldn’t take place, and that they wouldn’t have an opportunity to speak to Olson’s petition.
Select Board Chair Brian Doerpholz told residents that KMO was not seeking a public hearing, nor a special town meeting — the next step if selectmen had given the OK for a revote — on the failed petition article. KMO, Doerpholz said, had filed the motion for rehearing in order to preserve its right to raise issues about quarry reclamation in Fitzwilliam, should KMO choose to take the town to court.
The agreement is mutual, Doerpholz said, explaining that the town doesn’t want to incur the added expense of a special town meeting, or spend time rehearing an issue that’s already been vetted.
“It cuts to the chase,” Doerpholz said of the agreement to forgo a rehearing.
Aaron Olson and his wife, Kim Olson, have expressed an interest in reopening the Olson family’s Webb Hill Quarry in Fitzwilliam’s residential district since summer 2012. It was just a few months earlier that news broke of a N.H. Bureau of Securities investigation of Aaron Olson’s investment-related activities, including those through KMO. KMO currently is named in two pending lawsuits that allege Aaron Olson was running a fraudulent scheme that cost investors thousands and, in some cases, millions of dollars.
When asked by phone Tuesday what the Olsons’ next step is in their pursuit of reopening the Webb Hill Quarry, KMO’s attorney Thomas R. Hanna of Keene said, “We are not prepared to disclose that [information].”
While Doerpholz said at Monday’s meeting that KMO had withdrawn its motion for rehearing, Hanna said KMO never withdrew its application.
“It’s a fine distinction,” Hanna said. “KMO is simply not pursuing a public hearing on the motion for rehearing, and the reason it is not is because the selectmen have agreed that they will not claim that KMO failed to exhaust its administrative remedies.”
Hanna cited New Hampshire RSA 677:2 on zoning rehearing and appeals procedures, explaining that before an applicant can file an appeal in court the applicant must exhaust its options at the town level and provide an opportunity for the board or legislative body to correct errors.
By law, Fitzwilliam was required to hold a public hearing within 30 days of receiving KMO’s motion for rehearing. The purpose of the rehearing is for the Select Board to determine if the situation warrants a special town meeting.
In the April motion filed by Hanna and attorney James Higgins of Manchester, KMO maintains that Fitzwilliam’s land use code conflicts with New Hampshire RSA 12E, which regulates mining and quarry reclamation. KMO calls the town’s decision on the petition warrant article “unlawful and unreasonable.”
The petition article defines quarry reclamation as reclaiming grounds in and around the quarry through collecting, transporting, donating or reselling previously quarried stone. But town officials have contested that definition.
Planning Board Vice Chair Macreay Landy told the Ledger-Transcript last week that KMO defines quarry reclamation as the removal and sale of granite stone, which implies a commercial operation. Nowhere in the state’s definition of quarry reclamation is such activity permitted, according to Landy.
“Reclamation is restoration,” he said, noting that in his interpretation of state law quarry reclamation means restoring a site back to the way it was before mining activities were allowed on it.
KMO’s motion also alleges that Planning Board Chair Terry Silverman, who owns property on East Lake Road near the quarry, improperly participated in board discussions related to KMO’s petition and tainted the March 12 vote. Silverman could not be reached for comment by press time.
Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 228 or firstname.lastname@example.org. She’s on Twitter at @alyssadandrea.