Enfield Zoning Board approves variances for 300-unit development

An artist's rendering of townhouses proposed at the Laramie Farms development in Enfield, N.H. (Courtesy D.C. Development)

An artist's rendering of townhouses proposed at the Laramie Farms development in Enfield, N.H. (Courtesy D.C. Development) Photographs courtesy D.C. Development

An aerial view in Enfield, N.H., where developers are proposing to build about 300-units of housing, located atop a ridge on the Laramie Farms property. At left is Maple Street and Mascoma Lake is in the background. (Courtesy D.C. Development)

An aerial view in Enfield, N.H., where developers are proposing to build about 300-units of housing, located atop a ridge on the Laramie Farms property. At left is Maple Street and Mascoma Lake is in the background. (Courtesy D.C. Development)

A slide from D.C. Development compares the size of a proposed apartment building at Laramie Farms in Enfield, N.H., with The Great Stone Dwelling at the Enfield Shaker Museum on Mascoma Lake. (Courtesy D.C. Development)

A slide from D.C. Development compares the size of a proposed apartment building at Laramie Farms in Enfield, N.H., with The Great Stone Dwelling at the Enfield Shaker Museum on Mascoma Lake. (Courtesy D.C. Development)

By LIZ SAUCHELLI

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 05-15-2024 5:02 PM

ENFIELD — The Zoning Board of Adjustment approved two variances necessary for a roughly 300-unit housing development to go forward. Officials say it is the largest housing development project ever proposed for the town.

The project, which will include apartment buildings and townhouses, would be built on roughly 77 acres of land — known as Laramie Farms — that borders Route 4 and Maple Street in downtown Enfield.

During a meeting Tuesday night, the Zoning Board approved both variances by votes of 4-1, with member Dan Regan the lone opponent both times.

The first variance allows the developers to build more than one building per primary lot, as there will be multiple buildings contained on two separate parcels. The second variance allows the developers to construct buildings that are about twice as tall as Enfield’s current height limit of 35 feet.

The proposal calls for more than 200 apartments in buildings that would be around 73 feet tall, with the rest of the units in townhouses that would be around 44 feet tall.

“I don’t think it’s really going to affect the character of their neighborhood,” Mike Diehn, the Zoning Board chairman, said during the meeting.

It was the third meeting the Zoning Board had about the variances requested by the developers, which include landowner John Dibitteto and his development partner Stephen Doherty of DC Development and Construction.

During the first two meetings — in March and April — the public had a chance to weigh in, but at Tuesday night’s meeting, the board did not take public comment, which drew objections from some in attendance. More than a dozen people attended in person at the town’s Public Works building and via MicrosoftTeams.

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Diehn said the focus on Tuesday night’s meeting was for the board to deliberate. At one point, he paused the meeting for roughly 10 minutes after verbally sparring with Maple Street resident Dave Beaufait, who tried to interject during the board’s deliberations.

The animosity continued after the board voted.

“I presumed since they hadn’t voted yet we would be able to have input,” Linda Jones, a direct abutter of the project who lives on Route 4, said in a Wednesday phone interview. She said she was out of town for a previous meeting and had trouble streaming it online. “I was really quite surprised that it was planned in advance not to have any public input.”

The majority of those who spoke at the first two hearings were against the proposed development, citing its height, the number of units and concerns about an increase in traffic on Route 4. Opponents said the size of the project was out of scope and contrary to the town’s rural appearance.

Regan reiterated some of those concerns as the board deliberated, which followed an hour-long executive session where they met with Enfield attorney, Michael Courtney, of Upton and Hatfield LLC.

The board then spent more than an hour publicly debating both variance and voted on each separately.

“I think the people on Maple Street would say it does alter the essential character of the neighborhood,” Regan said.

Regan also disagreed with other board members who said that because the development could be treated as its own neighborhood and not part of Maple Street, where the developers have proposed an emergency access road that could also double as a footpath for those who live at Laramie Farms.

Zoning Board member Bill Finger acknowledged that residents on Maple Street would be able to see the buildings from their properties.

“We can’t block any development because someone ... could see it,” he said of the legal limits of the board’s authority.

The buildings would be located atop a ridge on the Laramie Farms property, according to plans provided by the developers. In recent months, the developers adjusted the plans to put more of the taller buildings underground — where parking will be located — in order to line up better with the existing treeline as viewed from Maple Street.

“That isn’t the vision I have of Enfield,” Jones, an abutter, said Wednesday. “… I think that the height will be more visible than anyone realizes.”

Jones said she has multiple objections, including an access road that would connect the development to Route 4. As proposed, the road would connect with Route 4 at the crest of a hill and on a curve that does not have good visibility for motorists, she said.

“I think it’s an awful lot of traffic onto Route 4 in a dangerous place,” said Jones.

Jones is a member of the town’s Planning Board and said she would recuse herself on any future consideration of the proposal.

The developers need to come back to the Zoning Board for a “special exception” for the access road connecting to Route 4 because as proposed it would cross a wetland, said Rob Taylor, Enfield’s land use and community development administrator. He noted that the proposal is the largest development the town has considered.

The developers also will need site plan approval from the Planning Board, among other steps they must complete before beginning construction.

Jones said she isn’t opposed to Laramie Farms being developed, she just doesn’t think the current proposal and the variances it requires are a good fit.

“I think the townhouses are fine and that the apartment buildings are too high and would fit into the town better if they were lower,” she said.

Abutters have 30 days from Wednesday to appeal the Zoning Board’s decision, Taylor said. The first step in the appeals process would be to appeal to the Zoning Board itself to ask it to reconsider the decisions, which members could do at a meeting scheduled for Tuesday, June 11.

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.