Enfield rejects appeals of approvals for housing 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)

By LIZ SAUCHELLI

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 06-20-2024 2:29 AM

Modified: 06-20-2024 12:11 PM


ENFIELD — The Zoning Board of Adjustment denied two appeals to variances they approved for the proposed Laramie Farms housing project.

During a public comment period following Tuesday night’s votes, residents took ZBA members to task for approving the variances, which paved the way for the roughly 300 housing units to be built on roughly 77 acres between Route 4 and Maple Street.

“I’m so discouraged and really upset (with) the way this has been handled. It’s terrible, absolutely terrible.” Cecilia Aufiero said.

The appeals were filed by abutters Trae and Gwyn Dessert, of C-More Farm Drive, and Linda Jones and Alv Elvestad, of Route 4. They asked the ZBA to reconsider its approval of two variances granted last month.

The first was to allow more than one building per primary lot. The second variance allows the developers to construct buildings taller than Enfield’s 35-foot height limit.

Plans call for roughly 300 units spread among townhouses that are around 44 feet tall and apartment buildings around 73 feet tall.

“We realize the ZBA board’s responsibility is to do what is right for the land and personal feelings are not taken into account, but this is personal for us and Enfield as a whole,” the Desserts wrote in their appeal. “This is our home. We are very aware of the housing crisis, but don’t feel this is a good solution to the issue.”

The Laramie Farms proposal remains in the early stages: The developers still need to go before the Planning Board for a site plan review, among other approvals needed before they can begin construction. The next step for the abutters would be to file appeals with the New Hampshire Superior Court, which Jones said she was considering, among other steps.

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“The result last night was what I expected,” Jones said in a Wednesday phone interview. “I thought they were too firmly embedded with how they were right to listen to anything.”

At the start of the meeting, ZBA chair Mike Diehn made it clear that, in hearing the appeals, the board would decide if they had grounds to schedule a rehearing, where members would reconsider their approvals of the variances.

“This isn’t about (if) they disagree with what we decided,” he added. “If somebody thinks we did it wrong, then we can consent to do a rehearing. We are not here to talk about the substance of the hearing, we’re here to talk about whether we did it right or wrong.”

The grounds for a rehearing, Diehn said, included if the board members failed to follow state law, did not follow the board’s own procedures or were “unreasonable.”

“The opinion of our attorney is that there are no grounds for appeal in those applications,” he added.

A majority of board members agreed with Diehn that the appeals did not have merit. They unanimously ruled against the appeal filed by the Desserts and 4 to 1 against the appeal filed by Jones and Elvestad.

Dan Regan was the sole board member to cast a supportive vote.

Both of the appeals took issue with documentation submitted by a state-certified appraiser hired by the developers that said property values should not be effected by the Laramie Farms development.

Jones and Elevestad disagreed with that decision.

“Given the size of the buildings, it is hard to imagine that the size of the buildings will not have a negative impact on the value of our neighboring property,” Jones and Elvestad wrote in their appeal.

When discussing the Desserts’ appeal, board members agreed that in the future they should consider getting a second opinion.

“At worst, we might be criticized for not seeking another opinion,” Diehn said. “To me, when I read that opinion, it looked independent. I didn’t see an association between the applicant and the appraiser in any way that would have been improper.”

Jones and Elvestad also found a sympathetic ear in Regan.

He cited a part of the appeal that noted the appraiser “focused on residential properties only,” while the couple owns a property that can’t be accessed by a road.

“I think we misinterpreted the evidence,” Regan said.

Other members disagreed and after a discussion voted against the appeal.

“We made our decision based on expert testimony; we made our decision on two hearings where lots of people got to talk,” board member Madeleine Johnson said.

“We didn’t do anything illegal. We did not act in a capricious manner,” Johnson added. “That’s what this is about tonight. How did we make our decision and did we make it in such a way that they should be reheard? I personally don’t think that we did. I think that we acted as responsible informed members of a zoning board.”

Many of those who spoke during public comment disagreed with the ZBA’s decision.

“I cannot see this development in the best interests of the people of Enfield and I think it’s a bad idea,” resident Douglas Smith said, adding that he believes the housing will add congestion, require more town services and will take away from the town’s rural character. Citing the ZBA’s use of the variances to approve the project, Smith added that “to bring a project people don’t want or need in the first place I think is inexcusable.”

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