Spofford Hall appeal moves to Sullivan County


CHESTERFIELD, N.H. -- The lawsuit between two town boards over the old Spofford Hall property has been moved to Sullivan County Superior Court because the lawyer representing the hall's owner is friends with Cheshire County's lone judge.

William C. Saturley, the legal counsel for Nine A LLC, said he and Cheshire County Superior Court Judge John Kissinger were once partners in a law firm before Saturley went elsewhere and Kissinger got on the bench. He explained to the Reformer that Kissinger has a recusal list of people not allowed to appear in front of him for various reasons. He said this situation is not unusual.

Saturley said all pleadings must now be filled in Newport, the county seat of Sullivan County, which borders Cheshire County. He said on Thursday that Nine A LLC is not a party in the lawsuit, which includes the Chesterfield Board of Selectmen and Zoning Board of Adjustment, so he has filed a motion to intervene. Saturley said the likely next step is for both parties to have a structuring conference with the clerk to hammer out a schedule.

The selectmen are unhappy with the ZBA's decision to allow Nine A LLC to tear down the old Spofford Hall and replace it with a cluster subdivision. The decision to grant a variance already has been appealed and was reaffirmed by the Zoning Board in April.

The Board of Selectmen in May gave permission to town residents Valerie and Jonathan Starbuck to act as the selectmen's agents in filing an appeal, at that time in Cheshire County Superior Court in Keene, and with the ZBA. The Starbucks are part of a group of citizens opposed to the ZBA's decision.

Valerie Starbuck previously told the Reformer everyone in the group, which is also paying the legal costs for the selectmen, feels the Spofford Lake District zoning district was established in 1999 for a clear reason -- to protect Lake Spofford and its shoreline from further high-density development.

"Town residents voted 2-to-1 in favor of creating the Spofford Lake District, which specifically prohibits cluster and multi-family housing. The New Hampshire Supreme Court found that the Superior Court had acted correctly when it upheld the ZBA denial of a cluster housing development in 2006 on the Spofford Hall property," Starbuck said in a statement. "We believe that nothing has changed from the reasons for the ZBA's denial of cluster housing in 2006."

Jon McKeon, chairman of the Chesterfield Board of Selectmen, said his board recently approved the ZBA's use of an attorney to help answer the questions of the appeal and submit them to the court. He said the zoning board has chosen Joseph S. Hoppock, who practices out of Keene. Attempts to reach Burt Riendeau, the chairman of the ZBA, were unsuccessful Thursday.

McKeon said the selectmen just want the matter resolved at little to no cost to taxpayers.

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, calls a cluster subdivision. Phippard said 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, sits 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 almost 20 years and has fallen into disrepair since it closed. It now contains hazardous stachybotrys, which is more commonly known as black mold.

Phippard has previously told the Reformer the five single-family house lots will range in size from .88 acres to 1.37 acres. Nine A LLC is made up of the family members of the late John Chakalos, a wealthy investor who died in December 2013.

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.


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