New Ipswich Planning Board reviews parking plan for Silver Scone Teas

By ASHLEY SAARI

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Published: 03-06-2023 2:48 PM

The New Ipswich Planning Board accepted the application by Silver Scone Teas for a site plan review of its proposed tea party event business, but discussions will continue for at least one more hearing.

After reviewing the application, the board unanimously voted to accept the application as substantially complete, and heard from abutters and other interested parties, but did not enter deliberations, instead continuing the hearing until March 15 at 6 p.m.

Silver Scone Teas, owned by Jane Elwell, hosts tea party events out of her residence, a historic home on River Road. Elwell has received a variance from the Zoning Board to operate a business in Village District I, after the town issued a cease-and-desist order last year due to the lack of a variance.

The Planning Board site plan review is to address the exterior elements of the plan, including a proposed 16-space parking lot off Currier Road and a walking path to Elwell’s home.

Robert Fasanella, representing Elwell, said the parking lot has been in existence for decades as a clearing likely once used for logging the property, and Elwell plans to make improvements, including removing a cluster of trees and adding gravel to make the clearing a permanent parking lot.

A group of neighbors has filed suit with the state’s Housing Appeals Board and Hillsborough County Superior Court over approvals Silver Scone has received. During the Planning Board meeting, Nancy Clark, who is representing the neighbors in their lawsuit, disputed that the parking lot had existed, including reading a statement from a former owner of the property who stated it had never been a parking lot. 

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Elwell rebutted that the clearing had been there for decades, and had likely been used as a log landing or staging area, and while it may have never specifically been a parking lot, it had been used to park vehicles, including her own.

Clark also alleged that the board acted incorrectly in waiving a fully engineered site plan, saying Elwell had not correctly identified the hardship associated with doing so, and claimed the septic system was not sufficient for the number of guests allowed. She also said Elwell did not have permission from the Monadnock Conservancy, which holds a conservation easement on a large part of Elwell’s property, to upgrade the driveway leading to the parking area.

Elwell said she has been in constant contact with the conservancy and that it has been supportive of the project, and that she has submitted a septic plan showing she had the capacity to put in an improved system should her current one fail, which the Zoning Board had reviewed and considered sufficient. As her variance only allows her to operate the business four days out of the month, she said it would be excessive to require her to install an upgraded septic system.

Neighbors said a parking lot in the Village District went against the character of the neighborhood. Abutter Marilyn Stowe said a 16-space lot was more in line with the town’s downtown or industrial areas.

“How does this in any way adhere to the ordinance? I don’t feel it does,” Stowe said.

Neighbor Stan Zabierek said allowing a parking lot was “neither wise nor proper,” and that Elwell had never offered a “real solution” to the prospect of overflow parking.

Elwell said not all of her events will have the maximum 50 guests, that many guests come together in groups and that if there is overflow parking, parking on the side of Currier or River Road is not prohibited.

Other neighbors said the parking lot should be required to be suitable for year-round use, with some suggesting the board require it to be paved.

Bert Hamill, a former member of the Planning Board and civil engineer, noted that gravel driveways are used throughout town year-round, calling it a “compromise” to allow permeable surfaces.

Kathleen Sheldon, who has attended some of the Silver Scone events, said comparison to other parking areas in town was not an equal comparison, as the clearing off River Road is set back from the road, and is not visible from the road. She said it was natural-looking and fit in well with the landscape.

“I just don’t see that that’s relevant,” Sheldon said.

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

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