Rindge Zoning Board overturns site plan approval for self-storage facility

  • Zoning Board Vice Chair Marcia Breckenridge and Chair George Carmichael discuss an appeal of a site plan during the Zoning Board of Adjustment’s meeting Tuesday. Staff photo by Ashley Saari

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 6/23/2021 4:57:00 PM

The Rindge Zoning Board of Adjustment overturned the Planning Board’s approval of a site plan for the expansion of a storage facility, based on an appeal filed by the town’s Conservation Commission.

The Conservation Commission filed an appeal of the April 6 approval of a major site plan for Patriot’s Holdings, for a self-storage facility on Sears Drive, on the property of the former Sears building.

The plans include converting the current building, as well as an additional five self-storage buildings and associated parking.

After the approval, the Conservation Commission objected to the scope of the work being allowed within the buffer to wetlands on the property, including grading, drainage work, and cutting of vegetation.

The Zoning Board of Adjustment heard from both sides during the appeal on Tuesday.

Nathan Chamberlain, a civil engineer with Fieldstone Land Consultants, who originally presented the project to the Planning Board, represented the applicant. He said the work proposed is allowed under Rindge’s Zoning Ordinance, which allows clearing of vegetation within the wetland buffer if it is required for the construction of buildings or drives. He also argued the drainage plans constitute a utility, which are allowed within the buffer.

Also, Chamberlain argued, the work is not out of step with other work allowed within the wetlands buffer on other projects approved by both the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Adjustment, providing multiple examples that have been approved in the last several years.

“It is consistent with other site plans approved by Rindge boards,” Chamberlain said.

While acknowledging the appeal was filed within the proper time frame, Patriot’s Holdings also pointed out there had been no objection at the time from the Conservation Commission.

“What changed from January to May, and why didn’t they object to these plans then?” Chamberlain said.

David Drouin, chair of the Conservation Commission, objected to each of these points. He said the work being proposed in the wetland buffer is not required for building, as the building proposed are outside of the buffer itself.

“The work we’re objecting to is not the work for clearing for the buildings,” Drouin said.

Drouin said other examples of plans approved within the wetlands buffer weren’t equivalent to the plan for Sears Drive. Other plans, he said, were either smaller in scope, were required to access the site, or had gone through a special exception or variance process and included Conservation Commission input.

“This scale is larger,” Drouin said.

Attorney John J. Ratigan, representing Patriot’s Holdings, said the plans show a “clear pattern of interpretation” of the town’s Zoning Ordinance, and what the town has considered acceptable in the past.

Drouin said the Conservation Commission had not been contacted or asked to render an opinion in the case, and only learned of it and the possible wetland issues after the fact.

“The Conservation Commission shouldn’t have to go to every Planning Board meeting,” Drouin said.

Richard Mellor of the Conservation Commission also pointed out the work could be done without such extensive work within the buffer, and by truncating some of the proposed buildings, the proposed drainage plan could be placed outside the buffer. Or, he said, the applicant could obtain a variance to move forward with the plan as proposed.

Zoning Board Chair George Carmichael agreed with Drouin’s assessment that the Patriot’s Holdings proposal was larger in scope than other examples presented. He asked Chamberlain if Patriot’s Holdings would be amenable to narrowing the scope of the project to avoid disrupting the wetlands buffer.

Chamberlain said his client did not want to reduce the scope of the plans.

Most of the Zoning Board agreed that the Conservation Commission should have been consulted earlier in the process.

“They never got a chance to look at it. To push it under the rug, I don’t think it’s right,” said Zoning Board member Bill Thomas. “The Conservation Commission has a valid point. It should at least be reviewed.”

“I’m troubled that if they had a wetland issue, that they made a decision without input from the Conservation Commission,” said Zoning Board Vice Chair Marcia Breckenridge.

But, Carmichael pointed out, it is not a requirement, and while the Conservation Commission can render an opinion, the Planning Board is not bound by it.

Thomas said that it is still “firmly what (he’s) come to expect” when there are wetlands or water issues.

“The Planning Board failed to consider all viewpoints when they made this decision. That’s where I think this decision fell down,” said Zoning Board member Deni Dickler. “And that’s unfortunate for the applicant.”

The board ultimately found that the Planning Board failed to consider or correctly interpret sections 4, 5, 6 and 7 of the town’s wetlands ordinance, upholding the Conservation Commission’s appeal in a 4-1 vote, with ZBA member Phil Stenersen against.

Patriot’s Holdings has the right to appeal the Zoning Board decision. If that appeal fails, it can be further appealed through the court system. Ratigan said he would discuss the matter with his client about how they will proceed.

 

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter  @AshleySaariMLT.




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