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Developer’s Appeal Must Wait

Lebanon Board Wants Legal Opinion

West Lebanon — The city’s Building Code Board of Appeals delayed a decision Monday night on developer David Clem’s request for relief so that he might move forward with his plans to convert the former West Lebanon Library on South Main Street into an apartment for his own use and an office space for his company, Lyme Properties.

This has been an arduous process,” Clem told the board. “I’m tired of playing 20 questions.”

Monday’s meeting marked movement in the long-running standoff over the correct interpretation of the state’s building code for the planned renovations to the building, which Clem purchased from the city for $141,000 in a competitive bidding process in 2012.

Clem said that because the city has deemed the building historic, Interim Code Official Calvin Hunnewell has discretion in interpreting the building code and should allow the project to move forward without a fire-rated wall or sprinkler system.

Hunnewell said at Monday’s meeting that the International Existing Building Code requires sprinklers in all buildings as a “life safety” measure and that the state waives the requirement only for one- and two-unit dwellings, not for a multi-use building as Clem has proposed.

“It’s not a question of life safety,” said Clem. “My company, my wife and I also care about life safety.”

William Koppenheffer, vice chairman of the appeals board, asked Hunnewell whether the fact that the library is considered a historical building gives him the ability to waive the sprinkler requirement.

“I don’t believe it does,” Hunnewell responded.

Clem said that the project is consistent with the city’s master plan and the bid document which detailed his intentions for the renovation, which the city accepted in 2012.

Clem is also the developer behind River Park, a 38-acre project north of the old library, approved by the Planning Board in 2011. The project, which includes plans for laboratory, office and retail space, as well as single and multi-family homes with two parking structures, has been delayed as Clem works with the Department of Transportation to sort out whether or not widening the road to three lanes along the length of the project is necessary.

The Planning Board approved Clem’s request for a two-year extension to finish preliminary work for River Park last fall.

In a previous chapter in the disagreement between Clem and the city, Clem allowed the grass in front of the former library building to grow to nearly 3 feet tall last summer.

The grass eventually was cut and it hasn’t had time to grow high this year, but most of the building’s windows are boarded shut as the stalemate between the city and Clem has continued.

“I’m just asking for a decision,” Clem told the board Monday.

Several members of the West Lebanon business community spoke in favor of Clem’s renovation of the former library, including Curt Jacques, owner of West Lebanon Feed & Supply.

Jacques said Clem’s project is a “wonderful idea for us to continue to get West Lebanon where it needs to be.”

He urged the board not to “put these barriers up.”

After hearing comments, the board delayed a decision until its next meeting on Monday, May 19.

The board opted to continue the hearing so that it might obtain a legal opinion about what its authority is in the case of a building code appeal.

This is the first case before the city’s appeals board since the state’s language governing the board changed in June 2012, said Interim Zoning Administrator David Brooks.

The new language states that “an application for appeal shall be based on a claim that the true intent of the code or the rules adopted thereunder have been incorrectly interpreted, the provisions of the code do not fully apply, or an equally good or better form of construction is proposed.”

This differs from the board’s previous role in such matters, which dictated that it could opt to vary any application “when in its opinion, the enforcement of the Building Code would do manifest injustice and be contrary to the spirit and purpose of the Building Code and the public interest .”

Because the language is new, Brooks said, “it’s unclear where the board’s powers lie.”

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