Grantham Puts Off Demolition Decision

  • A red historic farmhouse on the Gray Ledges Rentals and Property on Feb. 1, 2018, in Grantham, N.H. (Valley News - Carly Geraci) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Correspondent
Friday, March 02, 2018

Grantham — The Planning Board has put off a decision on a request to demolish an early 19th century farmhouse until more definitive estimates about the cost to restore the structure are available.

The board on Thursday determined that the waiver application by the Gray Ledges Condominium Association was incomplete. The vote came after about an hour of discussion, during which several residents urged officials to uphold the requirement imposed on the developer of the condominiums in the late 1980s.

The farmhouse was to have been restored as a condition of the project’s approval three decades ago.

“We need a lot more input from independent people,” Planning Board member C. Peter James said. “We really don’t know the cost to fix it. We need to have someone with credentials to tell us this is what it would take.”

Residents who spoke against granting the demolition waiver said the condition placed on the developer should not be ignored simply because the building has been allowed to fall apart.

“My concern is if we let this go through, it is a precedent we are making for every historical property in this town,” said David Susco, an abutter on Dunbar Hill Road. “I don’t want that to be on the record, to let people off the hook for the commitment they made.”

Resident Jane Deane Clark said despite the original agreement, the condominium association neglected the building for 30 years and let it fall into disrepair by not investing in maintenance, which is needed to maintain any structure.

“And now you come to us and ask that you be allowed to demolish it,” Clark said.

Others said it is a valuable piece of town history and the historical society offered its guidance to be part of any restoration effort.

Peter Guillette, president of the condominium association, told the board the condition of the brick structure — the birth place and summer home of New Hampshire’s first attorney general — would make restoring it a “never-ending process.”

“Over last 30 years, the brick structure has continued to deteriorate,” Guillette said. “The exterior is missing brick and there are stress cracks. The bricks cannot be replaced with original ones because they are no longer are available.”

Basement joists are partially rotted and the chimney has collapsed, he said.

“So the association has made a decision it would like to replace that building, in order to build a new pool house,” Guillette said. “Trying to repair this building will be a never-ending process with the age of that building. It is just falling apart.”

Nancy King, a member of the association, said the condo owners did not have the funding to address the building after taking ownership from the developer in 2011.

Guillette said three contractors who inspected the building said any fix would be temporary because the original bricks, which were manufactured in Grantham, would continue to break down.

“It did not seem like a feasible approach to take,” Guillette said.

Sheridan Brown, a local attorney, who is leading the opposition the waiver, filed an 11-page brief with the board asking that it be denied.

The brief lays out in detail the history of the property and the record leading up to the request to drop the condition.

“The brick cottage ‘was to be replaced as close to the original structure as possible’ and Mr. Thompson (the developer) committed to ‘save as much of the brick work on the old cape as possible,’ ” Brown’s brief states, referring to Planning Board minutes of April 6, 1989.

“Seems intent was pretty clear to have a preserved building there,” Brown told the board Thursday.

Brown said in the brief the condominium association created its own financial hardship by not funding its capital reserves and that led to neglect of the building, which should not be reason to allow demolition.

“Demolition by neglect is a violation of the Planning Board’s condition to preserve the cottage,” Brown wrote.

The question of just how much it would cost to save the structure was what the board focused on.

In his brief, Brown said the condo association got an estimate in 2006 of $86,000 from Burns and Associates Engineers to do extensive work — including raising the building and putting in a new foundation, repointing the brick and completely renovating the interior. In today’s dollar that comes to $107,000.

“So I don’t know where the $500,000 is coming from,” Brown said.

It was also stated at the meeting the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance could do an assessment of the structure and the association’s share of the cost would be $100.

“I’ll write the check,” Brown said.

King and Guillette said it was not an easy decision to ask for permission to tear the building down, but given its condition, they believe it is the best course of action.

When asked whether they would be willing to use the reserves they have accumulated for demolition and construction of a new structure to instead restore the existing building, Guillette said that is something they would have to take up with the association members.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.