Recusals lead to New Ipswich ZBA postponing Silver Scone appeal

Zoning Board Chair Walker Farrey discusses setting an off-schedule hearing to discuss an appeal filed in relation to the Planning Board's site plan approval of the Silver Scones Tea business.

Zoning Board Chair Walker Farrey discusses setting an off-schedule hearing to discuss an appeal filed in relation to the Planning Board's site plan approval of the Silver Scones Tea business. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—

By ASHLEY SAARI

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Published: 11-03-2023 2:33 PM

After multiple board members recused themselves, the New Ipswich Zoning Board of Adjustment postponed hearing an appeal of an administrative decision related to the ongoing battle between the Silver Scone tea party business and abutters.

On Thursday, the board was scheduled to discuss an appeal related to the Planning Board’s approval of site plans for Silver Scone Teas, a tea party business run by New Ipswich resident Jane Elwell out of her home at 99 River Road. Richard Craig and Sharin Smeeth, who are part of a group of neighbors who have filed multiple appeals both at the town level and through the state’s Housing Appeals Board and Superior Court related to decisions in favor of Silver Scones, filed an appeal June 22 of the June 7 approval of the site plan review for the business.

The approval came with a list of 17 conditions, which included a list of 12 conditions already imposed by the Zoning Board during their approval of a variance to allow the business to operate in the Village District I, including limiting events to four times a month from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and with no more than 50 guests.

At the start of the discussion of the appeal, multiple board members recused themselves, including two members who have previously deliberated on the matter, but opponents of the business alleged they had shown bias during the process. Among those that recused themselves were Vice Chair Danielle Sikkila, who has removed herself from deliberations since an appeal to the State Housing Board found that she had showed bias by “liking” a Facebook post discussing the use of Elwell’s house as a business, and Dwayne White, who recused himself after making a comment during a hearing that he’d like to attend an event.

Also recusing themselves were full board members Lou Alvarez, who also serves on the Select Board and has recused himself from Silver Scone matters due to ruling on issues related to the property’s driveway permit, and Jeff Muhonen. Alternate Jay Hopkins was not present at Thursday’s meeting.

With the board typically fielding five sitting members, and having two alternates, this left only three people to sit on the board Thursday – Chair Walker Farrey, David Lage and alternate Brett Kivela.

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Farrey opened the discussion by acknowledging that the board only had three eligible members to vote, which would require a unanimous decision for the vote to be in the applicants’ favor. Farrey asked Nancy Clark, the lawyer representing the Craig and Smeeth, along with the remaining neighbors opposed to the business, if she would like to proceed with the truncated board or continue the hearing until a full board could be hosted.

“I’ll wait for a full board,” Clark replied.

According to Lage, Hopkins is expected to be seated for the discussion on Nov. 16, and the board is in the process of appointing a new alternate, Michelle Saari, who attended Thursday’s meeting to observe proceedings as a member of the audience. Lage said the ZBA will request Saari be appointed by the Select Board during its next scheduled meeting, allowing her to be seated for the Nov. 16 meeting as a voting member, giving the ZBA a full board of five.

The board agreed to hold an off-schedule meeting to address the appeal application. The board scheduled a meeting to discuss the issue for Nov. 16 at 6 p.m.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 603-924-7172, Ext. 244, or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on X @AshleySaariMLT.,