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Zoning Decision Key to Lebanon House

Lebanon — The School Board objects to a proposed zoning change for a property on Evans Drive adjacent to the Hanover Street School and Lebanon High School.

The request, if approved by the City Council next month, would reclassify owner Ann Therrien’s property, including a five-bedroom farmhouse, a neighboring bungalow and 1.8 acres of flat land, from a Residential Three zone to Residential Office One.

The requested change for the property received a thumbs up from the city’s Planning Board last week, but not before School Board Chairman Jeff Peavey expressed his board’s opposition to the proposal.

“The School Board feels that this is not a great way of going,” he said at the May 12 Planning Board meeting. “We’ve been in negotiations about purchasing the property, but have not been able to come to any terms yet.”

The reclassification would expand the possible future uses of the parcel to include multi-family housing, the conversion of a house to an office or the construction of a new office building of 3,000-square-feet or less. Uses such as the construction of an office building of up to 6,000-square-feet, a bed and breakfast, senior housing or group day-care center would be permissible as special exceptions under RO1, pending Zoning Board approval.

Therrien and her brothers Bruce and Fredrick Hatch grew up in the farmhouse, which has been in their family for six generations, and Therrien raised her three daughters there. She now lives in the two-bedroom bungalow on the property. Two adult grandchildren live in the main house.

In an interview Tuesday, Therrien said she’s worried that the 1880s-era home is falling into disrepair. A retired nurse, she said she would have to go back to work in order to afford the taxes and maintenance costs.

“I’m optimistic,” she said. “I hope something is going to be resolved before another winter here.”

She said she would prefer to sell the property to the school, but the two sides haven’t been able to agree on a price.

“It’s life,” she said, “have to go where you get the best offer.”

The city’s property assessment database values the parcel and buildings at $510,300; it is listed for $695,000 with James Ward of Equity Group Realtors.

In an interview on Tuesday, Ward said the asking price assumes approval of the proposed zoning change, but he wouldn’t say how much the price would be without it. He said the price is in line with similar properties that have sold recently in Lebanon.

Therrien said she offered to accept payment from the school district in two installments, half now and the other half in five years, but “their offers are not within our range.”

In an interview following the Planning Board meeting, School Board Vice Chairman Bob McCarthy, who sits on the Finance and Facilities Committee with Peavey, said the district had made three offers to buy the property based on an appraisal that showed a value of less than $400,000.

Peavey said the School Board considers the former Sacred Heart Elementary School on Eldridge Street a comparable property.

“We can’t get the $450,000 we’re asking,” he said, adding that the Sacred Heart school is within the Central Business District zone, which has 23 permitted uses.

Ward described the school’s opposition to the proposed zoning change as a “sideshow.”

“If the school needs it, that’s fine. They can buy it,” he said. “I would hope the City Council wouldn’t not pass it because they’re trying to negotiate for the school.”

Instead, he said, he hoped the City Council would make a decision based on the merits of the case. He pointed to the fact that most of the surrounding properties are zoned RO1 and that the proposed change is in line with the city’s master plan.

Ward said that as commercial development continues in the area around the schools, the Therrien property is increasingly less desirable as a residence, but the proximity to Interstate 89 and Route 120 make it a good place for offices or services.

Last week, Planning Board members Gregory Schwartz, Kenneth Morley, Larry LeClair, Chairman Tim McNamara and Vice Chairman Earl Jette voted in favor of recommending a zoning change to the City Council. Board member Joan Monroe voted ‘no’ and City Council Representative Sue Prentiss abstained because she will vote at the Council meeting June 18.

“I think we understand what it is you would like to do,” McNamara said at the meeting. “Rezoning has not moved along to match the owner’s desire to sell the property.”

Earlier this month, the Conservation Commission also voted to recommend the zoning change to the City Council. Conservation Commission alternate Suellen Balestra was the sole dissenting vote. She urged a delay until the city’s planning staff have time to conclude their study of the area and propose “wholesale” rezoning.

The other members present — Don Lacey, Chairman Hal Bourne, Ernst Oidtmann, Susan Almy and Clarke Dustin — agreed that they could find “no conservation issues with this parcel change.” City Council Representative Erling Heistad was also present.

City staff also recommend the zoning change because the area has been targeted for mixed-use, eventually.

“The planning staff see no obstacles as submitted,” Planning/Zoning Director Andrew Gast-Bray said at the Planning Board meeting.

He suggested that if the future zoning for the area were to differ from RO1, it would be more intense. He said the area’s future zoning would be “unlikely to be less intense.”

Ultimately, the decision will be up to the City Councilors, two of whom — Steve Wood and Erling Heistad — have previously told the Valley News that the school district’s interests should be taken into consideration.

“It would be a travesty to see that go into anything but supporting our kids,” Heistad said in an interview last month.

On Tuesday, Councilor Karen Liot Hill said while the schools are the predominate use in the neighborhood, they are not the only use. Hill said she didn’t think the school’s involvement makes the council’s decision a foregone conclusion.

“The recommendations of the Planning Board and Conservation Commission are likely to carry a lot of significance in the council’s deliberation, but it’s not a guarantee of anything,” she said.

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