Effingham—January 23, 2019—Residents will vote in March on whether or not to keep the town’s zoning ordinance. One proponent of a petitioned article to do away with zoning in Effingham says it could spur economic development. But the planning board roundly rejected the petitioners’ reasoning, arguing that having a zoning ordinance protects residents from development that might harm the town or individual property values.
Residents will get to vote on the ballot question March 12 at Effingham Elementary School from 11 a.m.-7 p.m.
According to draft planning board minutes from a Jan. 17 public hearing, the wording of the amendment is: “Are you in favor of repealing the Zoning Ordinance of the Town of Effingham, New Hampshire, 2000?” The “2000” refers to the year the ordinance was originally adopted. Ultimately, the planning board voted not to recommend the proposed repeal.
Resident Mellisa Seamans was among the 37 petitioners who brought the question forward. She dropped it off at the town hall on Dec. 10 and spoke on the petitioners’ behalf at the public hearing. She told the Sun in an email Monday that the petitioners seek to repeal the zoning ordinance in order to promote the “live free or die” culture, and to possibly spur economic development. They have also told her that zoning has not been enforced evenly in town. An audio recording of the hearing can he heard on effinghamnh.net.
“Tamworth does just fine without zoning,” said Seamans in an email. “When CMI (Club Motorsports Inc.) wanted to come to town, it took them 10 years and compliance with all citizen group demands before they could break ground…If something wants to come to Effingham the people are concerned about, why can’t we band together and focus on that? Why do we care where our neighbor puts his shed?” she asked.
During the hearing, she gave examples of perceived overreaches by town officials. She said one man who wanted to replace a door was forced to pay a $3,000 fine and have his old door reinstalled. She also said town officials gave someone the run-around when that person wanted to put solar panels on his or her property.
Planning board members and most residents disagreed with the petitioners, according to Jan. 17 hearing draft minutes that were provided to the Sun by email from Planning Board Chair Theresa Swanick, who wrote in that email that the consequences of repealing zoning would be “dire.”
The draft minutes say that at the hearing, Swanick explained that the purpose of zoning is to create a “set of guidelines that everyone works within. And it protects people from others who may be infringing on health, safety, peace and enjoyment.”
Effingham’s zoning is already one of the least restrictive in the area, she said, adding that a repeal of zoning has never occurred in New Hampshire.
“If repealed, the town could not prevent anyone from coming in and doing anything; it would be neighbor suing neighbor, or taxpayers footing the bill for the town to sue for some unwanted issue like we did in the first place before zoning was adopted by the voters,” said Swanick.
“The state regulates many things, such as wetlands, shore lands and gravel pits. But there’s no protection from noxious use (including fumes, noise vibration) without a zoning ordinance. Unless you take ’em to court.”
Seamans indicated that she thinks that groundwater is protected by other ordinances not in the zoning regulations. Resident and town moderator Susan Slack said that the town’s groundwater and wetlands ordinances would be eliminated if zoning went away.
Resident Virginia Wrabel, who identified herself as a Realtor, spoke in favor of zoning. She said without zoning, the town cannot protect homes and businesses. As a result, property values would plummet, she said according to draft minutes.
“If you don’t want zoning, take a ride through Tamworth,” the minutes quote Wrabel as saying. “They have a closed-up restaurant that I’m sure had a bar in it, across from their grammar school! That’s what the lack of zoning will do to your town. If that’s what you want, knock your socks off. It’s not what I want.”
Swanick explained to the Sun and residents at the hearing that in 1999 a racetrack was proposed in town. In response, Effingham residents drew up an emergency zoning ordinance and eventually thwarted the track by taking the case all the way to the state Supreme Court.
Town zoning officer Rebbeca Boyden said that she’s willing to talk with anyone who is unhappy with the zoning regulations and see if there’s anything she can do to help.
Several residents spoke out against the petition at the hearing. However, Effingham’s zoning ordinance’s future is far from certain. Seamans points out that zoning only passed by a 25-vote margin in 2000.
“The people that have lived here for generations maintain that is when Effingham stopped being Effingham — when it became divided,” said Seamans.