Sharon Arts Center plan receives variance

  • Anthony Sabatino, owner of the former Sharon Arts Center, left, and attorney Mark Fernald addressed the Sharon Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) Oct. 20. —STAFF PHOTO BY SCOTT MERRILL

  • Ken and Lynn Callahan look at the wood-fired kiln behind the former Sharon Arts Center building during a tour of the building Sept. 27.  STAFF FILE PHOTO BY BILL FONDA

  • The former Sharon Arts Center building. STAFF FILE PHOTO BY BILL FONDA

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 10/21/2022 11:27:10 AM

A variance granted by Sharon’s Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) Thursday for the former Sharon Arts Center will allow the building to be used for a number of potential office and educational purposes. 

New Hampshire Art Institute closed Sharon Arts Center – which had been in existence for 73 years – in 2019 after acquiring the property in a merger with New England College in 2012. The current owner of the property is Anthony Sabatino of Sabatino Realty Group and Sabatino’s Restaurants. 

The entire town is zoned Rural-Residential, but the Sharon Arts Center was grandfathered because it was built before the adoption of zoning ordinances in the town. However, Sabatino was required to have a variance because it had been more than two years since the property was used for educational purposes. 

Thursday’s discussion was a continuance of a Sept. 27 meeting that included substantial public input about the possible uses of the property and resulted in a request for an addendum to the application regarding potential uses.

The amended variance request included potential office usages, including medical offices, holistic health services, counseling and “other types of professional offices” added only with ZBA approval. Potential educational usages included dance and movement classes, art classes, woodworking and craft, pottery and glass-blowing.

All uses would be required to use on-site parking, and commercial trucks and construction equipment may not be parked on the property, except at times of active construction. 

One issue discussed at the meeting but not decided on by the ZBA was the future use of the wood-fired kiln on the property. This will be taken up on a future date, according to Sabatino’s attorney, Mark Fernald.

ZBA Chair Chet Bowles said he was pleased with the outcome but that ideally, he and others who live in Sharon wanted to see the building used as it had been for decades – as a center for art education. 

“But that does not appear to be feasible,” Bowles said after the hearing. “So, I think we all felt that it was better to have the building occupied and used – with appropriate conditions and limitations – rather than having it deteriorate and become an eyesore and a safety hazard.”

Fernald argued at the meeting that because the property is zoned Rural-Residential, his client owns a building that has no use.

Realtor Andy Peterson spoke at the hearing, pointing out that “The owner is allowed reasonable use of the building.”

“The reason boards of adjustment exist is to provide a safety valve in codes to attain relief,” he said. “Sharon has one of the most-restrictive zoning ordinances in the entire state, and this is a specific property before you for special relief. There’s a way to do it to respect the character and tradition of the town, but the current use is no longer practical.” 

Resident Gerald DeBonis, an abutter who has lived in Sharon for 42 years, expressed his concern that granting a variance as proposed was too broad. Specifically, his concern was with the proposals for private education and child care, as well as self-help programs.

“It opened it for proposed future use that would not be acceptable,” Debonis said after the meeting, asking what would happen if a future request called for a drug rehabilitation center under the education category. “What is an educational enterprise? Before the variance, education was a broad topic, but now the variance has been granted under a specific list of uses. If in the future someone comes up with another use that falls under ‘education,’ they will need to get a variance.”

Board members removed private education, child care and self-help programs from the approved list of uses in the education category.

Bowles said the board would be formalizing its notes—which will include the conditions— in a document that will be attached to the official notification for the approval of the variance in the coming days. The final version of the conditions will be available after board members and Sabatino have reviewed it, he said.

Once the ZBA files the variance decision, a 30-day motion for a rehearing period is posted.

“We’ll have to wait to see if any abutter asks for a rehearing,” Fernald said. “Mister Sabatino is happy that he will soon be able to move forward with rental and repair of the building.”

Debonis said he’s generally in favor of the decision and won’t seek for a rehearing.

“I think the changes the ZBA made makes [the former Sharon Arts Center] a useful structure,” he said. “It gives it life and is consistent with a reasonable relationship with the surrounding area.”


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