Silver Scone Teas fight continues with lawsuit and appeal

By ASHLEY SAARI

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Published: 02-22-2023 2:24 PM

Neighbors who have opposed the granting of a variance to allow the continued operation of the Silver Scone Teas tea party business on River Road in New Ipswich have filed suit with the state’s Housing Appeals Board and Hillsborough County Superior Court.

Silver Scone Teas was using the historic home owned by Jane Elwell to host regular themed tea parties and private events. However, Elwell had been operating without going through the process of filing for a variance allowing the operation of a business in the mostly-residential village district.

After neighbor complaints that included traffic, parking lining the roadsides on either side of the road and the location of the business in a mostly residential zone, the town issued a cease-and-desist to Elwell in June 2022 until she went through that process.

Elwell has since received a variance which allows the her to hold up to four events a month at the house, as the town has found that the business, while not listed among those allowed in the district by special exception, was either similar or less-impactful in scope to those that were allowed, which include inns, day cares, and nursing homes.

The variance approval included a requirement that the business also receive site plan approval, a process that is ongoing.

Also, in a separate process, the town granted a driveway permit to allow Elwell to make improvements to an existing cleared area on her property to create a parking area for guests.

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A group of abutters and nearby residents opposed both approvals, and appealed them through the town, but town boards upheld the original decisions in both cases. Now, the same group of neighbors, including Richard Craig and Sharin Smeeth, Robert and Annmarie Fournier, Stan Zabierek and Louise Delpapa, Christopher Allen and Marilyn Stowe, Gregory and Soyoo Caltiabiano, Christopher O’Leary, Elizabeth Freeman and Colin Carrroll, represented by attorney Nancy Clark, who also lives in the neighborhood, have taken the next step in the appeal process.

Last week, the group filed an injunction request with Hillsborough Superior Court, alleging the town did not respond in a timely manner to requests for a copy of the written decision on the driveway appeal, took longer than five business days to provide a written decision containing the reasons for the board’s approval of the variance and failed to follow the law requiring minutes of a meeting be available within five business days of a meeting.

Clark has requested the court issue an injunction requiring the town to issue and deliver the records within 30 days, pay court fees and that the court permit testimony and discovery on the issue, if needed.

The town has yet to file a response to the complaint.

A hearing on the petition has been scheduled for March 1 at 8 a.m. at the Hillsborough Superior Court- South, under Judge Charles S. Temple.

At the same time, Clark and her clients have also filed two suits with the State of New Hampshire Housing Appeals Board, asking for a stay – meaning stopping or suspending a proceeding temporarily or indefinitely – on both the driveway and the variance decisions.

The state’s Housing Appeals Board was established by the state Legislature in 2020, and accepts planning and zoning appeals, including zoning board decisions on variances, special exceptions and administrative appeals. The board either helps mediate the issue, or where mediation is not successful, holds a public hearing and issues a decision on the appeal. That decision is appealable to the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

According to the filings, Clark has requested a stay of all proceedings in both cases until a settlement or court decision is issued in the Superior Court case.

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

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