To the Editor:
As members of Freedom’s Zoning Board of Adjustment who participated in the Ossipee Lake Marina decisions, we want to comment on the current situation.
The Marina is a grandfathered non-conforming commercial business in a residential neighborhood that includes private homes, a beach club and a children’s camp. It can operate as it always has, but material changes in its operation require ZBA approval.
The Marina’s current owner purchased the business in 1997 and constructed buildings without required approvals. He later purchased adjacent residential property and moved the Marina’s operations onto it, also without approval. In 2001, the Selectmen required him to apply to the ZBA for “after the fact” special exceptions for the violations. He complied and asked for further expansions of the business at the same time.
In 2002, the expansion application was debated in three public hearings over the course of four months. Hundreds of people attended the hearings and many more wrote letters, with a majority opposing the expansion.
After deliberating and consulting with Town Counsel, we rejected the expansion plan but granted “after the fact” approvals, with restrictions, for a bathhouse and parking lot that the owner had constructed on the adjacent residential land known as Lot 42. Our rulings were appealed but were upheld in State Superior Court in 2003, ending the case.
Fairness and balance were the essence of the process by which we considered the Marina’s application. In the end, our rulings offered continued protection for the Marina’s established business, granted the owner two expansions that we felt were reasonable, and denied expansions that we felt would harm the environment and surrounding residential areas.
Recently, the Marina’s manager, Tim Cupka, wrote a letter to local newspapers saying the Selectmen authorized the Marina to store more than 23 boats outdoors and use Alvino Road for customers, both of which the ZBA prohibited. The minutes of the Selectmen’s meetings confirm the Selectmen’s approvals; and the minutes further show that the Selectmen authorized the Marina to use Lot 42 for boat storage, which the ZBA also denied.
In essence, the Selectmen appear to have unilaterally overruled ZBA decisions that were lawfully derived through a fair process supported by a majority of the public and validated by a State Superior Court judge.
Several weeks ago, Town Counsel reviewed the Selectmen’s rulings on outdoor boat storage and the use of Alvino Road and reaffirmed the ZBA’s authority in the matter. Now he has been asked to review the Lot 42 boat storage issue, and we are confident that the ZBA’s authority will be similarly reaffirmed at the Selectmen’s meeting on May 1.
Mr. Cupka’s newspaper letter asks that the Marina’s customers attend the May meeting to request that the ZBA limits on boat storage be reconsidered. That misses the point on two counts.
First, the forum for requesting special exceptions to zoning is the ZBA, not a Selectmen’s meeting. Second, the Marina’s owner agreed to accept those boat storage limits as a condition of the special exception he was granted in 1997 to construct two boat storage buildings. He challenged the limits as part of his 2002 expansion plan, but he was turned down by the ZBA and State Superior Court, ending the matter.
Freedom’s zoning ordinance facilitates change while protecting individual and community rights. The current situation is unfortunate, and all the more so because it is unnecessary. The issues currently being discussed were resolved clearly, fairly and lawfully three years ago.
April 26, 2006