Town of Wilton, NH

Zoning Board Minutes

September 12, 2005

Voting BoardChairperson Neil Faiman; members Joanna Eckstrom, Carol Roberts, Jim Tuttle & Bob Spear; alternate member Eric Fowler.
ClerkDiane Nilsson
  • Household of Faith – variance
  • Revisions to Rules of Procedure

Faiman called the meeting to order at 7:32 p.m. He then introduced the Board members.


Minutes — August 9, 2005

Eckstrom asked that any amendments or corrections to the minutes be spelled out in detail.

Fowler noticed that in the fourth paragraph on page 1, Ms. Eckstrom was referred to as Mr. Eckstrom and that needed to be corrected.

MotionEckstrom/Tuttle to approve 8/9/05 minutes as amended. Five in favor and Mr. Fowler abstained.

Faiman then explained the Board procedure for hearing cases to the audience, he also noted that a number of abutters were not notified of the first hearing, but he believes all have been notified now. Because there were some abutters in the audience that were not aware of the first hearing, he asked the applicant to do a brief summary of what they presented last month.

Case #8/9/05–1 — Household of Faith (continued from August 9, 2005)

Household of Faith has applied for a variance to section 5.3.7 of the Wilton Zoning Ordinance, to permit the creation of seven dwelling units in the existing building on Lot J – 038, 16 Maple Street.

Peter Manha represented the applicant and did a brief summary of what he presented last month. (See 8/9/05 ZBA Minutes).

Susan Childress, 15 Maple Street, asked what exterior changes would be made to the house or the grounds. Spear said that exterior fire escapes from the second floor would be added. Manha said that the added parking spaces would be taking away less than 10% of the current grounds. They will also be taking out a poplar tree.

Abutter Jason Joyal, 29 Park Street, asked if this was going to be temporary or transitional housing. Manha said no, their goal is to have market rate or affordable apartments.

Abutter Judy Collins, 25 Park Street, asked who would manage the building. Manha said that at present the plan is that he will be doing it. There is no plan for a resident manager.

Abutter Chip McConney, 21 Maple Street, asked how many parking spaces there are currently on the property. Manha explained that spaces aren’t marked out, but in the proposed parking area there are probably about 7.

Dick Rockwood asked if there would be any common rooms. Manha said no. Rockwood asked Manha to explain Household of Faith’s previous application to the ZBA. Manha said that the request was two-part: transitional housing for women, wherein women and their children could use four of the bedrooms for short-term stays; the second part was to rent the pool and barn open areas to a group like the Boys & Girls Club to help support the building. Manha said the ZBA didn’t grant the second half of the proposal and thus they are looking for another way to support the building.

Abutter Cynthia McConney, 21 Maple Street, asked about overflow parking, in case some of the larger units would have more than two cars. Manha said that there is another paved area in the back of the lot if it is needed.

Manha presented board members with a packet of information that covered the break-even analysis of the proposed use, a chart showing the multi-family homes in the area around the Abbot House, and articles from Harvard University Joint Center for Housing Studies and Habitat for Humanity that address the issue of multifamily housing not lowering property values.

Eckstrom asked if the articles specified the number of units in the multifamily dwellings. Manha said no. Eckstrom said, then it could be 2 or 20 units. Manha said yes.

Appraiser Robert Bramley, of R.G. Bramley & Co., Nashua, represented the applicant and presented the board with a report and stated that the subject property has been well maintained and its appearance contributes positively to the appearance of the neighborhood. Because there would be very few exterior changes to the house, his opinion was that conversion to a seven unit apartment building would not negatively impact property values in this neighborhood and would not negatively impact the character of the neighborhood. Chet Rogers, also with R.G. Bramley & Co., explained the density study in the report, which shows that the subject property, because of its large lot size, has the fewest dwelling units and bedrooms per acre, compared to both multifamily and single family residences in the immediate area.

Rockwood asked what density had to do with property values. Manha answered that density had more to do with character of the neighborhood. Bramley answered that he believes that this property will continue the trends of increasing property values in the area, although he said he could not find a comparable property to lend legitimacy to his statement.

Eckstrom asked when the multifamily homes were converted. Tuttle answered that most of them would have been converted in the nineties.

Abutter Sam Proctor asked Bramley if there were any comparable properties that he looked at, and if not, how did he come to the opinion that a seven unit apartment building at this location would not negatively affect property values. Bramley said that he could not find a comp. He said that he has been in the business for 40 years and it was his opinion that property values would not be negatively affected. Proctor then asked what would happen to the property values if the owners sold the building after if was converted into seven units, and the new owners didn’t maintain the exterior as these owners do. Bramley said that that would probably affect the surrounding property values.

Faiman summarized Bramley’s testimony as follows: with regard to character of the neighborhood, he evaluated it along the single metric of housing density. With regard to property values he offered a conclusory opinion, based on substantial experience, but without much in the way of specific supporting evidence for the conclusion that neighboring property values would be unaffected. Bramley agreed with this summary.

Allan Miller, Hollis ZBA member, represented the McConney’s and went through the variance criteria.

Miller also pointed out that The Abbot House is a grandfathered three-story building, and if the variance is granted, the board will, in effect be granting a more non-conforming use. He also included, in his packet of information, Page III – 21 from the Wilton Master Plan which states that Wilton has a higher proportion of rental housing stock than many towns in the region. See file.

Miller also made some suggestions in the event that the Board decides to grant the variance:

Abutter Proctor, 9 Park Street, also representing his wife Susan, 15 Maple Street, first spoke to the issue of diminution of property values in the neighborhood. He said that he knows and respects Bramley but disagrees with his opinion. He said that he has been a licensed real estate agent since 1968 and has been working full time since 1977, and like Bramley, his opinion is just that, an opinion. He could not find any empirical data, nor could a local appraiser he asked. He asked the board to consider the following scenario: “I am a real estate broker and I have two identical houses for sale, same condition, same price. You, the buyer, like the house, and just need to decide which one you want. One is situated between two single family homes, the other sits between a single family home and a seven-unit apartment building. Which one would you choose? In his experience most buyers would choose to be next to a single family because they feel that their property values will remain more secure and they feel that the neighborhood will be more quiet.

Addressing the character of the neighborhood, Proctor said that he knows the neighborhood well. He grew up there and he lives near there and walks there at night. He said it is very quiet, especially at night, except for the Legion, which is sometimes active and sometimes not.

He felt that the addition of 14 or more cars at the intersection of Park and Maple Streets going in and out, day and night will make a big change in the character of the neighborhood. Proctor then handed out a document entitled Trip Generation, 6th Edition: An Informational Report of the Institute of Transportation Engineers Volume 1 of 3. He also presented a summary sheet that shows the different numbers in trips per day for single family residence, 3 unit dwelling, and seven unit dwelling. See file.

Proctor said that he read some Supreme Court cases that dealt with such cases and the Supreme Court actually cautioned about a use variance being much more of a risk to a town, because it changes the character of the neighborhood, than an area variance. He felt that allowing a change in use to 7 units from the current 3 which are allowed in the Residential District, is a change to commercial use. He said he was concerned not only about this variance request being granted, but if it is granted, how many other homes in the downtown Residential District would seek to increase their use beyond 3. Proctor then handed out a map of the neighborhood surrounding the subject property that identified 18 properties that he believed were large enough to qualify for a use more than 3 units, some more than 7. He said that he thinks the Planning Board and the people of Wilton made the right decision when they decided to limit the number of units in the residential district to 3, and he wouldn’t like to see the Commercial District creep into the Residential District.

Proctor went through the variance criteria. He said the property is not unique in its setting because there are 18 similar properties. He felt granting the variance would be in direct violation of the spirit of the ordinance because the ordinance specifically limits multi-family conversions to three. He felt that the use would be contrary to the public interest because there would be a lot more traffic with seven units than there would be with three at an intersection that is heavily used by school children and is already busy.

Bill Dulette said isn’t there already a lot of traffic on a school morning. Proctor answered that there was but that he felt that 14 or more cars coming out of this particular spot was dangerous.

Nancy Foster, with The Cabinet, asked if the attached barn on the Abbot House was finished space. Manha answered yes. Then she asked Proctor if the 18 homes he identified on the map he handed out also had finished barns. Proctor answered that for the most part the barns were not finished, but they could be if the owners had a reason to finish them. Tuttle said there was another problem, some of the properties that Proctor identified don’t have enough green space for more units. Proctor answered that he took that into consideration and did the calculations and all of them qualify for at least 4 units.

Dick Rockwood said that Mr. Bramley is correct, there are no sales, no information out there to prove that there will not be diminution of values, so Mr. Bramley has offered an opinion. He said that he believes that the burden of proof with regard to whether this use would result in a diminution of property values in the area rests with the applicant. Without that proof, he doesn’t think the applicant has met the test. He added that The Abbot House is a beautiful old historic building and he felt that it would be a shame to see it used as anything but a single family residence.

Jim Stearns, Pead Hill Road, formerly of Maple St., in favor of the project.. 7 units better than 1.

Susan Childress, 50 Maple Street, said that as an owner of a 3-family, she has noticed that the more tenants who share a residence, the less they seem to care for that residence.

Bill Goulette, 32 Crescent St., said that he is a proponent of the project. He said he owns his own home now but when he was renting it was difficult to find a nice place to rent. He felt that the people who would rent these apartments would want to take care of them. He also said that during the time that Household of Faith has owned the property, they have done nothing but improve its appearance, however if you look at some of the multifamily homes in the area that may not be lived in by the owner, they don’t look as nice. He wanted the Board to take that into consideration.

Manha reiterated that the low density of the project shows how the project will impact the neighborhood. He also said that he can’t understand how they could have put hundreds of thousands of dollars into the building and be willing to put hundreds of thousands more and property values would be negatively affected. He said that the Board previously approved 20 parking spaces and if people had a problem with parking spaces they should have spoken up before now.

Foster asked who would do the maintenance on the property. Manha answered that they would do it all. She then asked if boats, motorhomes, skidoos, etc. would be allowed to be parked on the property. Manha said no. Nothing but cars would be allowed.

Miller, representing McConney’s, pointed out that the density argument avoids the whole topic of the increase in traffic. He reiterated that in his opinion 7 units constitute an apartment building, and he repeated the Simplex prong 2, that a fair and substantial relationship does exist between the general purposes of the zoning ordinance and the specific restriction on the property because the Planning Board, in creating a special exception to allow two and three unit conversions only, demonstrated intent to limit density in this zone. Miller added, the availability of cluster developments in the Res/Ag District also demonstrates intent to limit density in this zone.

Abutter Cynthia McConney said that she hoped the Board votes in the spirit of the way the ordinance was written. She said she was not opposed to a multifamily, she owns a multifamily that she is converting to 3 luxury condos. She said that she will sell 2 of the units and already has a waiting list with 5 people on it. She is not opposed to 3 or 4 units but to the 7 units and she does feel that 7 units would impact her property negatively. She said that one of the units is over 2200 sq. ft. and the total sq. ft. is 4600.

Proctor cited the 2004 Supreme Court Decision Bacon v. Town of Enfield to argue that the subject property is not uniquely burdened as compared to other similarly situated properties in the area. He said it is not the only large house on a large lot, there are a number of others.

Donna Chaput said she was in favor of the project because she felt that it was important to have affordable housing for people who can’t afford luxury apartments.

Abutter Jason Joyal said that he would like to see what the impact of 3 apartments at the subject location would be like before contemplating 7.

Abutter Chip McConney said that even though 20 parking spaces may have been allowed 3 years ago, they were granted for a different use.

Roberts asked the applicant to show her where the pool and barn areas were on the plan. She asked if the plan is to fill the pool in. Manha said yes. She asked why they did the barn conversion. Manha said they needed gathering spaces. She asked what the square footage was of the house and of the pool and barn. Manha said 6000 for the house and 4000 for the pool and barn.

MotionEckstrom/Tuttle to close hearing and schedule deliberations for Tuesday, September 27, 2005, at 7: 30 p.m. All were in favor.


Revisions to Rules of Procedure:

Burden of Proof

The applicant shall have the burden of proving any historical facts relevant to an appeal before the Board. Such relevant historical facts include, but are not limited to, the date on which a lot, a structure, or use came into existence.

Proof that a lot existed as a Lot of Record (Zoning Ordinance Section 3.1.19) on a particular date shall require signed certification to that effect by an attorney or licensed land surveyor, accompanied by copies of the deed or deeds from the Hillsborough County Registry of Deeds that support that conclusion.

The existence of a structure or use on a particular date may be established by testimony or by documentary evidence.

MotionSpear/Tuttle to adopt Proposal 1 (Burden of Proof) as written. All were in favor.
MotionSpear/Tuttle to adjourn. All in favor.

The meeting adjourned at 10:25 p.m.

Minutes submitted by Diane Nilsson

Posted August 16, 2005