Eco Village gets variance in split decision by Peterborough ZBA

  • Walden Eco Village in Peterborough. FILE PHOTO

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 5/4/2022 11:26:04 AM

In a 3-2 decision, the Peterborough Zoning Board approved a variance to allow Walden Eco Village to keep 10 structures within the wetlands buffer.

Eco Village was first designed and built prior to 2012, when the zoning ordinance was amended to include a wetland buffer zone. The property consisted of multiple tiny houses that were being used as rental properties until December 2020, when Code Enforcement Officer Tim Herlihy found multiple code violations and safety concerns. Residents were required to vacate the seven cottages and nine tiny houses on the property, some of which had never been approved for full-time occupancy.

An application to subdivide the property, allowing 20 homes on quarter-acre lots, has been in front of the Planning Board since July 2020, before the code violations were found. The variance was required to continue in front of the Planning Board.

The ZBA met on the proposal last month, but continued the hearing to allow members to go on a site walk to the Middle Hancock Road property. Board members also received feedback from the Conservation Commission.

Applicant Akhil Garland, on behalf of the Garland Family Trust, initially proposed keeping 15 structures in the 50-foot wetland buffer, but was amenable to removing some structures, following recommendations by the Conservation Commission. The application in front of the Zoning Board was for 10 structures, as a hoop house would be removed and not replaced, and the additional buildings moved out of the wetland buffer and relocated.

Board members quizzed representatives of the Garland Family Trust on why other structures should stay in place. Chad Branon of Fieldstone Land Consultants, representing the applicant, said the buildings that were to remain had concrete or frost wall foundations, and removing them would cause more disruption to the wetland. 

Vice Chair Peggy Leedberg said that was a convincing  argument.

“My feeling is removing structures would be more detrimental to the buffer, than leaving them as-is, with restrictions,” Leedberg said.

Zoning Board member Don Selby said he would not be able to support the proposal as it was, even with the reduced number of buildings. He said he would like to see several other buildings removed.

“To me, in the long run, it would recover and be better,” Selby said.

Leedberg said she, in turn, couldn’t support that proposal, due to the disruption of removing the foundations.

Selby was one of the opposition votes, on the grounds that he did not believe the application met the requirement of being “not contrary to the public interest.” Chris DiLoretto also voted against granting the variance, saying the application failed to meet several points, including not being contrary to the public interest or within the spirit of the town’s zoning ordinance, and that it would negatively impact neighboring property values.

Leedberg, Peter LaRoche and Jim Van Valkenberg voted in favor, and the approval came with multiple conditions, including several proposed by the Conservation Commission.

Conditions include the removal of five of the structures from the buffer zone and relocating fencing for two pig pens out of the zone. The area of one of the removed structures will be replanted with blueberry shrubs or native plants or wildflowers. There will be no further structures allowed in the buffer, or expansion of the ones already there.

Plans for a proposed fire pond will be submitted to the Conservation Commission for review, and markers will be placed along the 50-foot area around the pond to mark the buffer. The board also required that small structures, planned to be used as communal spaces, cannot be used as sleeping quarters.

The Planning Board is reviewing a proposed subdivision on the Walden Eco Village site, as well as a conditional use permit related to proposed impacts on wetland buffers. The Planning Board meets next on May 9 at 6:30 p.m., in the Peterborough Town House. 

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

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