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Letter: Zoning Complications and the West Lebanon Library

To the Editor:

My fellow taxpayers are wondering why the old West Lebanon Library building has been boarded up for almost a year, a potential jewel on a street sorely needing a facelift. The reason, again, lies with the city dragging its feet for almost two years. The building was purchased from the city with the condition that the buyer would grant a permanent easement to maintain the facade of the historic structure. The buyer has committed to honoring this objective not only for the exterior facade but also for the interior finishes, including the oak wainscoting (one need only to visit Wilder Center for an example of what can be done) — if he can ever get the city to issue him the necessary building permit!

Several building codes and regulations are in play, which I understand, but in matters of regulation some consideration has to be paid to spirit, intent and, frankly, common sense. For almost two hours Monday night, I witnessed an engineer, attorney and an architect for the developer facing the Lebanon Zoning Board of Appeals, the zoning administrator and the interim building inspector in a debate about something that to 99.9 percent of the population would seem to be a no-brainer.

In calculations that are far too complex to discuss here, one methodology defines a “score” that must be achieved by evaluating 20 different aspects of building safety before the building inspector will issue a building permit. Out of a possible score of 198, the former library building fails by one-half point, according to the city inspector, who insists that a two-point penalty must be assessed because the building lacks an “elevator recall device.”

Since the building has no elevator, and would not be required to have an elevator even if newly constructed, the developer’s code consultant believes a neutral score of 0 is more appropriate, allowing the building to achieve a passing score. The code consultant testified that the state building code allows the local inspector some discretion in the matter, especially since it is a historic structure. The local building inspector apparently is not willing to use that discretion.

Add to this impasse the fact that the Zoning Board of Adjustment was informed just as the hearing started that the local ordinance is in violation of current state law, which limits the power of the ZBA acting as the appeals board to disputed building permits. State law was evidently changed in 2012, and yet Lebanon has failed to update its zoning ordinance or inform the applicant when the permit request was originally submitted in late 2012. Why is the city just now informing the ZBA?

No wonder two new buildings in downtown White River Junction were announced this week while West Lebanon continues to stagnate. Why does it take two years to get a building permit for a historic building that everyone agrees should be saved?

Lauren H. Cummings

West Lebanon