Joint Meeting of the Harrisville Planning Board and Zoning Board of Adjustment
Wednesday, November 8, 2023
Meeting Minutes

Planning Board members present
: Ryan Stone Co-Chair, Courtney Cox Co-Chair, Andrew Maneval Select Board Representative, Peter Thayer, Jonathan Miner Alternate. Absent: Lisa Anderson

Zoning Board of Adjustment members present: Charles Sorenson Chair, Rex Baker Co-Chair, Andrea Hodson Select Board Representative, Jeff Trudelle, Hal Grant Alternate, Edward Tibbetts Alternate. Absent: Patrick Gagne

Attendees:  Sarah Heffron, Craig Thompson, Barbara Watkins, Mary Day Mordecai, Earl Horn, Ned Hulbert, Alison Weber

PB Co-Chair Ryan Stone opened the meeting at 7:00 pm.

Agenda and voting members – Mr. Stone noted the PB voting members for the evening were himself, Courtney Cox, Pete Thayer, Don Scott and Andrew Maneval.  Subsequently, PB members voted in favor to approve the agenda as presented.

Minutes of PB previous meeting, 10/11 – Andrew Maneval moved to approve the minutes. All voted in favor.

SRH Farm Food LLC, 31 Clymers Drive (Map 60 – Lot 55-2), Conditional Use Permit Application to construct a detached accessory dwelling unit (ADU). Pete Thayer stated that he and co-application reviewer Don Scott recommend that the PB accept the conditional use permit application as complete. So moved by Andrew Maneval and seconded by Courtney Cox.  All voted in favor.

Ryan Stone then noted that, in light of SRH Farm Food’s need for variance relief from the ZBA prior to consideration by the PB of the conditional use permit aspect, he would cede the floor to ZBA Chair Charlie Sorenson to present the business to be considered by that board.

ZBA voting members – Mr. Sorenson noted the voting members for the ZBA on the matter would include himself, Rex Baker, Andrea Hodson, Jeff Trudelle and Hal Grant. He then exhibited the plot plan on the screen for all attendees to view, inviting applicants Craig Thompson and Sarah Heffron to describe their proposal to the board.

Mr. Thompson noted the property owners were seeking two variances: the first from Article 6.1.3. for the proposed ADU’s encroachment in the public right of way along Clymers Drive, which turns into a Class VI road near the driveway entrance to their parcel; and the second from Article 6.1.4. for proposing an accessory dwelling unit on a lot already containing two dwellings, when the regulation states only one dwelling and one ADU are permitted.

Variance criteria – The Chair noted the criteria for a variance, outlined in Article 20.1.3., include the highest and most difficult barrier, which is proving unnecessary hardship, and as such asked the applicants to address this criteria first.  The applicants explained their wish to move Mr. Thompson’s elderly mother from out of state to an affordable and safe location, to help her age in place in the proposed ADU just a few feet from them. They have limited site options on their property, proposing that the 16 x 24 detached structure go on the back or southeast corner of their dwelling, to allow for proximity to family and ease of ingress and egress, particularly in winter, via the adjacent driveway and deck.

Asked about alternative locations given the proposed encroachment in the right of way, the applicants explained that the septic is behind the house, preventing construction there. The north façade is too close to the wetland, and the well and the driveway are along the west-facing façade. Currently, a mudroom addition approved by the ZBA in 2022 is under construction along the south-facing, Class VI road side.

Sarah Heffron explained that the second house on the property, a 3-bedroom structure, is part of the wedding package they offer, is key source of income, and is critical for attracting wedding business, as it offers guest on-site accommodations to stay and get ready. It also is far more living space than Mr. Thompson’s mother needs for her age and health.  Ms. Heffron added that a shed had previously been located in the location of the proposed ADU. Had they foreseen their current needs, they would not have removed it.

The existing septic is designed for commercial use as it serves the event barn as well as the dwelling, and would easily handle an ADU.

The ZBA chair returned to the unnecessary hardship threshold, explaining the statutory description of hardship and asking the applicants to address what is unique about their property, citing the language in the statute. “Unnecessary hardship means that, owing to the special conditions of the property that distinguish it from other properties in the area, 1) no fair and substantial relationship exists between the general public purposes of the ordinance provision and the special application of that provision to the property; and 2) the proposed use is a reasonable one.”

Mr. Sorenson asked that, given the purpose of the statute and zoning ordinances is to treat people equally, the board needs to justify why the ZBA should treat the applicants’ property differently from other properties similarly situated, allowing relief for the right of way setback and allowing more than one dwelling, or two in their situation?  He explained that the ZBA can deem a hardship to exist, “if and only if owing to special conditions of the property that distinguish it from other properties in the area, the property cannot be reasonably used in strict conformance with the ordinance and a variance is therefore necessary to enable a reasonable use of it.”  IN other words, the special conditions of the property have to relate, not to changes or conditions created by the property owners but, to conditions of the property itself.

The applicants explained that the dwellings were built in 1932 and 1935, pre-existing the ordinances and the current layout of the road, and that the site conditions of their dwelling are such that no other location is possible without incurring substantial expenses, either to relocate the driveway which serves the farm, or constructing a new well.

The board and applicants then discussed what might be required to create two separate parcels out of their existing acreage, so that one dwelling could be located on each lot.  The Planning Board Co-Chair explained the difficulty in answering that without an actual application to evaluate against the subdivision regulations, but that theoretically it could be doable.

Mr. Sorenson explained that the proximity of the dwellings to the Class VI road isn’t necessarily a unique condition compared to many other properties in town settled along Class VI roads.

In addressing the additional variance criteria, including, Mr. Thompson noted the state’s encouragement of ADUs supports that substantial justice would be served by approving the proposal and allowing the applicants to provide for their elderly mother, and that the purpose behind allowing ADUs serves, rather than being contrary to, the public interest. It would provide affordable housing for a retiree with limited means.

Regarding Article, the applicants further noted, given ownership of the land on both sides of Clymers Drive, there would be no diminution of surrounding properties.

ZBA members asked the property owners if an option existed for an attached ADU, or a proposed addition to the existing dwelling, thereby removing the need for a variance from Article 6.1.4., which restricts residential district parcels to one dwelling and one ADU. The board reviewed with them the conditions and basis for granting the prior variance for the mudroom, noting the proposed location of another addition is what would trigger the different relief required, whether that would be a special exception or variance, and the extent of encroachment in the setback.

Members considered the existing conditions of the Class VI road, as well as the qualities and circumstances that differentiate an addition, from an attached ADU, from a detached ADU and the ordinances triggered by the different circumstances.   The applicants do not feel an attached ADU is possible due given their circumstances.

PB member Andrew Maneval asked if the ZBA wanted to consider, given the use of the second dwelling as an Airbnb, whether under the ordinances that structure meets the town’s definition of a single family dwelling, thus raising the question whether the lot actually contains more than one single family dwelling. The board discussed how and how often as an Airbnb the structure has been used, and the ordinance definition of dwelling and tourist home. ZBA members agreed that the structure traditionally has been used as a single family residence and hasn’t or isn’t otherwise enough used in other ways to change that designation.

ZBA members then reviewed all the criteria for both requested variances, as follows: There will be no diminution in the value of surrounding properties as a result of the variance requested. All agreed this was true relative to both variances needed. – The grant of the variance requested would not be contrary to the public interests. Members all agreed. – By granting the variance requested, substantial justice would be done.  Members were divided about whether substantial justice would be served as to both variances, particularly regarding the multiple dwelling issue. Potentially substantial justice could be served through the use of the second dwelling as the ADU, though it would detract from the wedding business.  After substantial discussion, the chair noted that a vote on whether the criteria was met showed a 2-2 tie with the Chair undecided. – The requested variance would not be contrary to the spirit of the ordinance.  Members agreed a variance allowing a third dwelling was contrary to the spirit of the ordinance by a vote of 3-2. – Unnecessary hardship. Literal enforcement of the provisions of the ordinance would result in an unnecessary hardship as defined by NH Revised Statutes Annotated Chapter 674, Section 33, as amended. The chair asked if ZBA members felt, in reference to encroachment in the setback, that the property was unique given its location at the end of a Class VI road.  Members agreed it was. However, regarding proposal of a 3rd dwelling, members were divided, with 3 voting the hardship criteria was not met and 2 voting it was met.

Rex Baker subsequently moved to approve the variance with regard to encroachment in the right of way setback, similar to the approval granted for the mudroom addition last year. Andrea Hodson seconded. The board voted 5-0 in favor.

With regard to the ADU, Charles Sorenson moved to deny the variance for the ADU for failure to meet the unnecessary hardship criteria by failure to demonstrate uniqueness of the property related to multiple dwellings, that there is no unnecessary hardship from denying a third dwelling on this particular property. Rex Baker seconded. The vote was 3-2 in favor of the motion.

The ZBA then moved to adjourn as its business was concluded. Andrew Maneval requested that Andrea Hodson remain as SB Representative for the remaining PB business due to a schedule conflict.

The PB resumed as follows:

SRH Farm Food LLC – Given the decision of the ZBA relative to SRH Farm’s variance application, the PB will request the applicant withdraw its PB application as the board cannot move forward with it at this time.

Transportation Committee – In light of the committee’s ongoing study of safety along Hancock Road, Mary Day Mordecai reviewed the committee’s recommendations for additional signage, brush cutting and line painting along the most curved sections. The committee would like to take its final recommendations to the Select Board given the potential impact to the 2024 budget. The recommendations fall into four categories: 1) enforcement, noting the police chief’s input that enforcement of speeding cannot be the primary solution for safety concerns; 2) painting of a single line on 5 curved portions, anticipated to cost $3,800; 3) brush clearing in certain sections for improved visibility; 4) additional road signage denoting speed limit and “share the road”, and adding new signage marking approaches to the boat ramp from both directions, the total for which is estimated at $1,580.

The committee and PB also discussed the importance of education of drivers and pedestrians and the importance of continued discussion with the lake association to help convey safety messages to property owners and their guests, via their website.

Ms. Mordecai noted that buildup of the road edge is a possible conversation for the future but the committee has no estimate for such work now.

Following additional discussion of speed data, traffic counts along the road, and uniqueness of its layout, the board thanked the Transportation Committee for its work. The committee will take its recommendations to the SB, taking into account the PB’s input.

Master Plan, Gwarlingo Tri Fold – With Lisa Anderson’s absence, the board deferred the topic, noting the edits need to be squared away.

Ordinance Review Committee – The ORC will meet again on Fri 11/10 at 3:00 pm and anticipates bringing to next month’s PB meeting its recommendations for what to bring forward to Town Meeting. The minutes of the ORC will be posted on the town website.

PB Application forms – The PB Co-Chair will look at the Minor Subdivision application for possible changes, but review was deferred.

New business – Ryan Stone noted he will attend an upcoming SB meeting when the 2024 budget will be discussed, for the purposes of the Capital Improvement Plan.

Hazard Mitigation Plan Update – The Co-Chair noted he had hoped more time would be available for input on the Hazard Mitigation Plan. He feels the length of the comment period was inadequate given the length of the document. Andrea Hodson noted it was worked on over the course of six months plus.

The meeting adjourned at 9:20 pm.