CHESTERFIELD, N.H. — A natural gas company based out of Stratham has filed an appeal of a Chesterfield Zoning Board of Adjustment denial to locate a tractor trailer parking lot on Mill Road.
According to a document filed with Cheshire Superior Court in Keene, Xpress Natural Gas hopes to use the spot for short-term parking for its natural gas tankers. The spot, which can be seen from Route 9, was formerly used as a trucking terminal for Dean Foods, doing business as Garelick Farms. The Zoning Board's denial was based on a belief that the spot hadn't been used as a trucking terminal for the 12 months prior to the application submitted by Xpress.
However, wrote Michael P. Bentley, who is representing Xpress, Kristin McKeon, the chairwoman of the Chesterfield ZBA, "exhibited a bias agains XNG's proposed use of the property and took an active role in assuring that the ZBA would determine that the use of the property as a trucking terminal had been abandoned for more than one year prior ..."
McKeon is the wife of Jon McKeon, the chairman of the Chesterfield Board of Selectmen, noted Bentley.
During a Jan. 9 ZBA meeting, wrote Bentley, Xpress introduced documentation that "clearly indicate[d] that the use of the property" was as a truck terminal.
"XNG also introduced evidence [that] Dean Foods ... had paid rent and made actual use of the property as a trucking terminal through March, 15, 2016," noted Bentley.
According to court documents, Xpress submitted its application to the town in January 2017 and had been renting the property in December and January for use as a terminal but stopped doing so when the legal conflict arose with the town. Nonetheless, noted Bentley, the rental agreement and Dean Foods' use of the property indicated it had been in use within the 12-month period.
On Jan. 10, wrote Bentley, Jon McKeon, during a meeting of the Board of Selectmen, proposed the town hire an attorney to advise the ZBA. Bentley wrote that it was "substantially more probable than not" that the McKeons communicated "in private and out of purview of the public" sometime between the Jan. 9 ZBA meeting and the Jan. 10 board meeting, characterizing the "probable" conversation as "highly improper."
The ZBA again met on Feb. 13, but before convening the public portion of the meeting, contended Bentley, it met with legal counsel. When the ZBA came out of its non-public session, a motion was read to redefine the description of a trucking terminal in the town's zoning bylaws, "even though the Zoning Board of Adjustment has no jurisdiction to amend the zoning ordinance ..." wrote Bentley.
The definition proposed during the meeting included the property can't be used "for truck or tractor trailer parking for trailer exchanges, drop offs, or delivery unrelated to the use of the building." The attempt to rewrite the zoning bylaw, contended Bentley, "was nothing more than a bold face attempt ... to craft a definition that XNG's proposed use of the property could not possibly meet ..."
Bentley also accused McKeon of doing research about the historical use of the property on her own time. "All Board members ... are to receive all evidence at public hearings and have no right to conduct independent investigations on their own only disclosing the results ... after the public hearing was closed ... preventing XNG from saying anything about the matter ..." wrote Bentley.
Bentley also noted that a transcript of the Jan. 9 meeting and published on the town's website was prepared by McKeon, who is not the secretary of the ZBA. The function of the secretary is to record the proceedings, wrote Bentley, and the function of the chairwoman is to preside over meetings. Her "unprecedented action ... are yet further indications of the adversarial zeal and bias which Kristen McKeon has demonstrated ..." wrote Bentley.
Bentley is asking the Superior Court to find in the favor of Xpress and allow it to use 19 Mill Rd. as a trucking terminal "without the necessity of having to receive from the ZBA a special Exception ..."
Chesterfield has until Aug. 22 to file its response.
Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 151, or firstname.lastname@example.org.