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City: House Can’t Be Apartments

Lebanon — The Zoning Board of Adjustment has denied a developer’s request to convert the last single-family home facing Colburn Park into an apartment building.

The panel voted 3-2 at the end of its meeting Monday night to reject Dana Seguin’s request to convert the historic home and carriage house on South Park Street into eight apartments.

Board Chairman Jeffrey Halpin, Vice Chairman William Koppenheffer and board member Larry Leclair voted in the majority, while b oard members Dan Nash and Alan Patterson dissented.

The building, which dates to the early 19th century, was the home and office of the late Myric Wood Jr., who operated a medical practice there.

The Board’s majority found that Seguin failed to demonstrate that the property’s current zoning, which does not allow for multi-family dwellings, put him under unnecessary hardship due to particular characteristics of his parcel.

“This property is not distinguished from other properties in the area,” Halpin said.

The former residences neighboring the house have been converted to offices. Seguin contends that there are enough office spaces available in the city and that what is needed is downtown housing, close to city amenities.

The Zoning Board did not contest the point that apartments would be a reasonable use for the property.

The board found Seguin’s application meets the other four criteria required for the variance in that a conversion to apartments would not be contrary to the public interest, the spirit of the ordinance would be observed, justice would be done and the value of the surrounding properties would not be diminished. The application only failed to pass muster on the hardship standard.

“As much as I hate to say it, I don’t see that I can support this,” Halpin said.

He said the board could not be seen to be “spot zoning.”

Seguin, who purchased the home for $370,000 from Wood’s widow, Lois, in 2012, described the decision as a “clear disappointment,” in an interview on Tuesday

“I’ve not had one person who said it was a bad idea,” he said.

He said that because the house has been a residence for nearly 200 years, he would like it to continue as one. The size of the home — 5,500-square-feet — would make it impractical for one or two families to live there as current zoning permits.

Seguin said he is hopeful that the city would eliminate the four-property professional business district in which his property now sits; including his parcel in a district such as the central business district would allow for multi-family housing without a variance.

That could take time, however, and Seguin does not want to wait, he said.

In the near term, he said he would either appeal the board’s decision or petition the City Council. He said he would present his plans for the home to the city’s Heritage Commission tonight and he plans to meet with Interim Zoning Administrator David Brooks on Friday to plan his next steps.

Natural Gas Proposal

In other business Monday, the Zoning Board opted to continue a hearing regarding Jay Campion’s request to construct a natural gas facility on his 180-acre property off North Labombard Road, behind the Dartmouth Coach bus station.

Board members will review minutes from a January Planning Board meeting, which include statements of concern about truck traffic, threats to wetlands and wildlife and the sustainability of the fuel, before closing the Campion zoning hearing, said Halpin.

This delay was spurred in part by impassioned testimony from City Councilor Nicole Cormen, an alternate on the Planning Board.

She stated disbelief that the development near the Route 120 corridor will be hidden from view. She told the board that “substantial site work” on Campion’s property has already begun and is visible on Google Maps.

Cormen also stated concerns about the threat the project may pose to nearby conservation land, including the city-owned Signal Hill, and wetlands. She said the wetlands are especially important in minimizing effects of heavy rain on property in the area.

She added that traffic would likely increase due to the proposed use, which would involve trucking liquified natural gas to the site where it would be converted to compressed gas before being distributed via pipeline to nearby customers.

Cormen told the board that granting a variance for the project would be contrary to the public interest and would cause “no hardship” to the applicant. Such an approval would be a “grievous injustice,” which would favor Campion’s concerns over those of the rest of the community, she said.

If constructed, Campion’s would be the first distribution center for natural gas in the region. The two other natural gas facilities within city limits, at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center campus and at the Kleen Laundry facility on Foundry Street, do not redistribute the fuel.

Campion told the board that the proposed project is “centered around (the) premise that this service is not available currently in the area.”

He denied Cormen’s claim that his project would encroach on wetlands.

Zoning Board member Dan Nash asked Campion how the zoning regulations might be seen to have placed undue hardship on him.

“The tough nut is going to be the use,” said Nash, who explained that a natural gas facility is not permitted in the zones in which the property is located; half is zoned for industrial use, and the other half is zoned rural.

The board will revisit Campion’s proposal at its April 21 meeting.

Eastman Hill Cell Tower

Monday’s busy agenda also included consideration of a proposal from Barry and Christine Barns and AT&T to construct an unlit 130-foot telecommunications tower, an equipment shelter and an emergency generator on Eastman Hill Road.

The site lies in a rural district, which allows the construction of communication towers by special exemption.

AT&T’s intent, as stated by attorney Will Dodge, is to expand and improve coverage in the area around exit 17 on Interstate 89 and Routes 4 and 4A toward Enfield.

He said the proposed site was selected after other potential locations fell through due to lack of landowner approval, among other site flaws.

Dodge presented the results of a noise study, which he said found the generator and air conditioner would not raise noise levels in the area above World Health Organization standards.

Except in the case of a power outage, the generator will only run for a half hour per week, he said.

Dodge also presented results of an assessment of the potential visual impact of the tower. He said the tower, which would not be camouflaged as a fake pine tree, would not be visible from Eastman Hill Road or Route 4. The structure, however, will be visible from Interstate 89 and some spots on Route 4A.

Eastman Hill resident Susan Thomas asked whether she would be able to see the tower from her roof deck.

Dodge said Thomas “might be able to spot it” from her deck, but that she would be looking down on it. It would not be visible from her house, he said.

Three other neighbors earlier expressed opposition to the project, according to minutes from a March 17 meeting. They stated that the tower would be an eyesore that would diminish their property values.

Due to lack of time at Monday’s meeting, the board moved deliberation of AT&T’s proposal to its April 21 meeting.

If approved, the project would be subject to site plan review by the Planning Board and building and fire departments.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.