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Judge rules Grafton Church owes town over $10,000 in back taxes, legal fees

  • An engineer has advised the Town of Grafton, N.H., that the Peaceful Assembly Church poses a “significant hazard to public safety” due to structural problems caused in a 2016 fire. A crow flies over the building, where roof damage has worsened over the winter, Sunday, March 10, 2019. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

  • The town of Grafton in taking Peaceful Assembly Church to court, asking for more than $9,000 in back taxes and attorneys fees because the church hasn't meet deadlines to repair the building. The church burned in 2016, heavily damaging the building and killing founder John Connell. Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/1/2019 10:26:39 PM
Modified: 5/1/2019 10:26:34 PM

NORTH HAVERHILL — A Superior Court judge has ordered the Peaceful Assembly Church to pay Grafton more than $10,000 in back taxes and legal fees for failing to hold up its end of a 2016 agreement to restore the historic former meetinghouse on Route 4.

Peaceful Assembly hasn’t met deadlines for significant repairs to the 1790s building, which was heavily damaged in a January 2016 fire, Grafton Superior Court Judge Peter Bornstein ruled on April 22.

The town is now entitled to $8,146 in back taxes and $2,200 in attorneys fees it had agreed to waive in exchange for promises to restore the church building, the judge ruled.

“I’m pleased that we prevailed in the court case,” Grafton Selectboard member Steve Darrow said on Wednesday. “I’m hoping that this is going to lead to a resolution on the state of the building.”

The town took Peaceful Assembly to court late last year, claiming it wasn’t abiding by the 2016 settlement, which called for the building to be weather tight by December 2016 and largely repaired by December 2017. That agreement ended a yearslong legal battle over the church’s tax-exempt status.

“As far as the town can observe, it appears as if the church building has been abandoned,” town attorney Adele Fulton wrote in an Oct. 28 filing.

However, church officials argued the building was being used. And while they conceded that some repairs weren’t completed in time, they said the town is entitled to less because there’s still a December 2019 deadline to finish all exterior and window work that might be met.

The town backed up its arguments by submitting photos of the church from May 2017, October 2018 and January of this year, all showing the church with damaged windows and a large hole in the roof and walls, which were partially covered by a tarp.

The building was “open to the elements for at least 20 months,” according to a Feb. 15 report by Wilder-based engineer Timothy Schaal, who was hired by the town to assess the building from the outside.

Rot likely left the building “structurally compromised,” he wrote, adding that both the ceiling and roof could be at risk of collapsing.

In his ruling, Bornstein agreed photos of the church confirm that Peaceful Assembly failed to meet repair deadlines and “large portions of the church roof are entirely missing.”

It’s unclear whether anything was done to stabilize the building since then. On Wednesday, it appeared to be in a state of disrepair similar to the town’s photos. Large holes in the ceiling could be seen from Route 4, and “no trespassing” signs were affixed to some of the doors and windows.

Messages left for Peaceful Assembly Church president David Kopacz and Concord-based attorney Seth Hipple were not returned on Wednesday.

The church does plan to hold Saturday afternoon services inside a shed at the property this spring, according to its website. Officials are also planning work parties to make repairs and clean up on Wednesdays and Saturdays, a notice on the site said.

Tim Camerato can be reached at or 603-727-3223.

Valley News

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