Castle neighbors win appeal

KEENE — Cheshire County Superior Court Justice John C. Kissinger Jr. issued an order earlier this month that finds Rep. John Hunt (R-Rindge) and his wife, Lynda, in violation of Rindge’s zoning ordinance for operating a rental business on Sunridge Road, where such activity is prohibited without a special exception.

But both the Hunts and the town of Rindge filed motions Friday with the Superior Court asking Kissinger to reconsider his April 15 ruling on the grounds that the rentals are a permitted secondary use of the Hunts’ Castle — an ornate mansion at 165 Sunridge Rd. To rule otherwise, they argue, would set a dangerous precedent in Rindge for anyone who rents his or her home.

In Kissinger’s order, he maintains that the Castle is a tourist home located in Rindge’s residential/agricultural zone. Kissinger’s decision strikes 2012 rulings from the Rindge Zoning Board and Rindge Select Board in which town officials imposed conditions on the rental of the Castle, but stopped short of calling the rentals part of a business.

Kissinger did not make a decision on whether or not Hunts’ second Rindge property, the Holloway House at 63 Sunridge Rd., is a tourist home. He remanded that decision to the Zoning Board, stating that such a determination will “hinge on whether the Holloway House is an owner occupied home.” Previously, town officials ruled that the primary and principal use of both the Castle and the Holloway House is residential, and therefore they do not meet the definition of tourist homes.

Rindge’s zoning ordinance defines a tourist home as “[a]n owner occupied residence or part thereof that provides temporary lodging to overnight guests for compensation.” While the Hunts have said that they do not stay at the Castle with renters, Kissinger wrote in his decision that the definition of “owner occupied” is not black and white: “[T]here is no indication that the phrase is meant to apply to the physical presence of the owners while guests are present.”

Whether the Castle is partially rented out or rented out in its entirety, Kissinger wrote, the Castle is the Hunts’ home and primary residence. For that reason, it is owner occupied, according to Kissinger.

By phone Monday, Hunt said no one gains, including his neighbors, in calling the Castle a tourist home because it opens up a can of worms for anyone who wants to rent a home in Rindge. If he and Lynda need to change their primary residence to the Holloway House to continue renting the Castle, Hunt said he will do so.

But before any such action is taken, Hunt said he and the town are asking Kissinger to revisit the April 15 court order, which rules in favor of the Sunridge neighbors’ court appeal.

William and Maryann Harper, Andrew and Heidi Graff, Donald and Liza Pyke, William and Shirley Preston and Timothy and Susan Wessels, all residents of Sunridge Road, maintain that the Rindge Zoning Board erred in its May 2012 and August 2012 decisions to allow the Hunts to continue to rent the Castle to vacationers. The neighbors maintain that the Hunts are operating a business in a residential/agricultural zone and that the neighbors’ safety and daily life has been compromised. The neighborhood group first wrote the Select Board in January 2012 to say the Hunts were operating a business without a special exception.

Zoning Board Chair David Drouin said by phone Monday that his board will not schedule a hearing to decided whether or not the Holloway House is a tourist home — as remanded in Kissinger’s order — until all matters at the Superior Court are settled. “It would be premature to do so,” he said.

Drouin said it is also too early to tell whether or not the Hunts will be required to apply for a special exception with the Zoning Board or if the Superior Court could grant them some form of relief.

In early 2009, the Hunts sent a letter of intent to their neighbors, explaining their plans to begin renting the 11,000-square-foot castle, which was built in 1995, as a new source of income. At that time, the couple applied for a special exception, according to court records, but later withdrew their application for reasons not specified in town meeting minutes. The Hunts say they withdrew their application in 2009 because it was the sense of the Zoning Board at that time that a special exception wasn’t necessary.

Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 228 or adandrea@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter at @alyssadandrea.

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