CHESTERFIELD, N.H. -- The town's Zoning Board of Adjustment voted, once again, to accept a variance request and allow Nine A LLC to tear down the old Spofford Hall and replace it with a cluster subdivision.
The ZBA had granted the variance by a 4-1 vote in January, but the Chesterfield Board of Selectmen soon presented an official request to hold a rehearing of the company's application because its members felt the decision went against the best interests of the town. The ZBA voted 3-2 in February to rehear the application.
Lucius "Lucky" Evans was the only member to vote against granting the variance in January. On April 8, he again was the only member of the board to vote no.
Nine A LLC had asked for the variance in order to split the roughly 6.18-acre site into five parcels that development consultant Jim Phippard, of Brickstone Land Use Consultants, called a cluster subdivision. Phippard told the Reformer there were no changes to the application he presented to ZBA members and about 40 citizens at Chesterfield Town Offices on April 8. He said there is now a 30-day period in which the selectmen can appeal the ZBA's decision to the Cheshire County Superior Court.
According to the application, the residential cluster would be made up of five lots on 30 acres of land. Spofford Hall, which Phippard has said consists of nearly 99,000 square feet of floor space, rests on land owned by Nine A LLC and was once used as a substance-abuse rehabilitation center starting in the 1970s. It remained in operation for nearly 20 years and has fallen into disrepair since its closure. It is filled with hazardous stachybotrys, more commonly known as black mold.
Phippard said Tuesday night the five single-family house lots will range in size from .88 acres to 1.37 acres. Those involved with the project say the Spofford Hall building will be demolished once a site plan is approved by the Chesterfield Planning Board. Nine A LLC is made up of the family members of the late John Chakalos, who was found dead in his Windsor, Conn., home on Dec. 20. A medical examiner ruled the death a homicide and authorities have been investigating to find out who is responsible.
"We think it's in the public's interest to clean out this property, remove the building that has become an eyesore," Phippard said. "What I can tell you is that Mr. Chakalos did not abandon the property. I don't think he was negligent at all with this property. This property was not under his control. When he did get it this condition existed. He inherited this property from the people that controlled the property before him. So, I don't agree with the representation that this is a self-created hardship."
William C. Saturley, the attorney representing Nine A LLC, said he is unsure of who controlled the property before Chakalos.
Phippard told ZBA members the 99,000-square-foot building is out of place with the character of the neighborhood and the single-family cluster subdivision will likely enhance the value of other properties around Spofford Lake. All septic waste will be pumped out of the area as part of the development plan.
Saturley explained the ordinance in question specifies which sorts of uses you can have in which sorts of districts. Nine A LLC's property sits in a residential district as well as the Spofford Lake District. The ordinance, according to Saturley, states there cannot be a cluster subdivision in any lake district without a variance.
He also told the ZBA the variance would not be contrary to the public interest or the spirit and intent of the ordinance, would not devalue surrounding properties (several appraisers have said it would enhance property value) and a literal enforcement of it would cause substantial hardship to Nine A LLC.
Saturley told the Reformer the site plan proposal for the Planning Board will involve a lengthy process that includes an investigation of soils, determination of where the pump station will go and what types of grass will be planted.
"You have to think about every environmental issue, every piece of plumbing and every inch of asphalt," he said. "(Demolition of old Spofford Hall) is not just around the corner."
Chesterfield resident Val Starbuck attended Tuesday's meeting because she and her husband were hoping the Spofford Lake District ordinance forbidding cluster housing would be honored and no variance would be granted.
"We don't believe that a variance should have been granted for five houses on the six acres of shoreline because the ordinance was created to prevent just that kind of over-development. We don't believe that Nine A LLC proved unnecessary hardship, nor do we believe that this development is in the public interest or observes the spirit and intent of the ordinance," she stated in an e-mail to the Reformer. "We further believe that the previous 2008 New Hampshire Supreme Court decision to uphold an earlier denial of a very similar variance for cluster housing was correct and validated the purpose of the ordinance."
Starbuck said the opinion of her and her husband are shared by numerous residents of the town. She mentioned many people would have supported the development of three houses on the six acres of land because that would have been in line with the ordinance.
Resident Cliff Emery lives on Spofford Lake and showed up to show his support for the ZBA. He said he is in favor of the proposed development because it will result in the removal of an unsafe and unhealthy building and preserve 24 acres of watershed land. He said it is important to him to keep the lake as pristine as possible, and he is not the only one in town who feels that way.
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.