Sharon ZBA seeks details in Sharon Arts Center proposal

  • Anthony Sabatino, left, talks with Sharon Zoning Board of Adjustment Chairman Chet Bowles at the former Sharon Arts Center building Tuesday. Sabatino is the new owner of the building. —STAFF PHOTO BY BILL FONDA

  • Ken and Lynn Callahan look at the wood-fired kiln behind the former Sharon Arts Center building. STAFF PHOTO BY BILL FONDA

  • The wood-fired kiln behind the former Sharon Arts Center building. —STAFF PHOTO BY BILL FONDA

  • Sharon Zoning Board of Adjustment member P.J. Joyner walks around a studio at the former Sharon Arts Center. —STAFF PHOTO BY BILL FONDA

  • A ceramics studio at the former Sharon Arts Center. —STAFF PHOTO BY BILL FONDA

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

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 9/28/2022 3:12:50 PM

After checking out the wood-fired kiln, Ken and Lynn Callahan were standing behind the former Sharon Arts Center building during a tour at the start of Tuesday night’s Zoning Board of Adjustment meeting.

“It’s in great shape,” Ken said. “Find an appropriate school or something to put in there, it would be wonderful.”

The group of people gathered explored the building and grounds for about 20 minutes, and once the public hearing moved to the Meeting House, the question of what would go in the building ultimately led to the hearing being continued to Thursday, Oct. 20, at 5:30 p.m.

New Hampshire Art Institute closed Sharon Arts Center – which had been a community arts institution for 73 years – in 2019, having acquired the property in a merger with New England College in 2012. The new owner is Anthony Sabatino, of Sabatino Realty Group and Sabatino’s Restaurants.

“It’s a shame,” Sabatino said of the property not being in use. “It’s a waste of a space.”

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, because it has been more than two years since the property was used for educational purposes, Sabatino requires a variance.

Plans call for using the building for educational purposes and administrative offices, similar to its long-term use, but Zoning Board Chairman Chet Bowles said he has heard from numerous people that the use they prefer is an art center and workshops, and that they fear it will be used for other purposes.

Mark Fernald, Sabatino’s attorney, said his client does not have “somebody waiting in the wings” to use the building, but that the reason it is no longer Sharon Arts Center is because it was no longer working as an arts school.

“It’s simply an impossibility,” he said. “There’s not an arts organization looking for 10,000 square feet.”

Sabatino paid $450,000 for the property, which Fernald said needs a couple hundred thousand dollars of improvements, including to the parking lot, the roof and the sidewalks. The board can approve a variance with restrictions, but if it only allows arts uses, Fernald said Sabatino would not be able to invest in the building.

“He won’t ever get (his investment) back,” he said.

Furthermore, Fernald referred to the rule that the variance be “not contrary to the public interest” by saying, “The public interest is for that building to be used.”

Zoning Board member Stephen Gapp asked whether it would be allowed if an agent for Allstate wanted to move into the building.

“My concern is that it doesn’t go from Sharon Arts Center to Sharon Commercial Center,” he said.

Sabatino replied that the agent would be able to move in if it is allowed, but said the ideal uses would include education, a senior center, medical office, accountant or attorney. Zoning Board member P.J. Joyner suggested that a choir use the facility.

“I was thinking it would be wonderful for a dance group to come in there,” she said.

Ken Callahan, who lives across the street, said he wants Sabatino to be successful.

“I hope you can do it in a way that makes a profit, or at least you make your money back,” he said.

Callahan said his only concern is that while all the office use at Sharon Arts Center was for the center, any variance for commercial use goes with the building. Therefore, a variance that doesn’t specify what uses are allowed could mean a positive use like a bookkeeper could be replaced by something else that’s not so positive.

“Who knows what commercial is in the future?” he said.

Zoning Board member Jane Murray asked if they could limit that number of cars at the office.

“If we can do that, we can cut off construction companies,” she said.

Fernald said the board could limit the number of types of vehicles, and resident Rory Goff said he would not want a construction company in the building because construction vehicles would end up parked in the back.

“They just can’t help themselves,” Goff said.

A frequent desire expressed during the meeting was for any variance to specify what would be allowed in the building. Resident Gerald DeBonis suggested that instead of the ZBA developing a list of conditions at this time, Sabatino research the possibilities and come back with potential types of uses.

Andy Peterson was the Realtor involved in Sabatino’s purchase, and said he takes some responsibility for the application for the variance because Sabatino came to him for help. Peterson said he supports Sabatino and can understand residents’ nostalgia and sense of loss over the arts center, so his advice was to back with specific activities so the board and residents could see what they were.

“This is a unique situation and the town has unique concerns,” he said.

Sabatino and Fernald agreed to prepare an addendum to the application regarding potential uses for Oct. 20. Bowles had a list of items he wanted to see, including definitions for the various uses, hours of operation, a statement that the building is not to be used for living space or overnight use, parking only in designated on-site areas, no construction vehicles, trash collection at the back of the building and no exterior boxes or containers on the property.

Bowles also asked Sabatino and Fernald to email the addendum to the town no less than a week before so they could be distributed.


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