Freedom—January 23, 2022—The Effingham Planning Board on Thursday February 3 is scheduled to review the Meena LLC site plan application to establish a gas station at the former Boyle’s Market convenience store. If the board finds the application is complete, a public hearing on the proposal will ensue.
The meeting will be at Effingham Town Hall at 6:30 p.m. Any member of the public may attend in person, or request a Zoom conference link by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org by 5 p.m. the day before the meeting. Three previously scheduled reviews were postponed due to filing errors.
Meena’s application is controversial. In August, the ZBA granted a variance to pump gas at the site despite the property being in the Groundwater Protection District, where gas stations are prohibited.
The 4-1 vote to approve the variance came several months after the town’s zoning officer issued a cease-and-desist order against Meena’s principal, Pankaj “Prince” Garg, after finding he had installed and backfilled underground tanks and piping for the gas station without required town approvals.
In October, two abutting residential property owners joined Ossipee Lake Alliance and Green Mountain Conservation Group to appeal the variance decision in Superior Court. They argued that the variance was unlawful and unreasonable, and the board did not adequately consider environmental impact data presented at the hearings.
The site is a well-documented “recharge area” for the Ossipee Aquifer, the region’s primary source of drinking water. “Highly transmissive” soils there can allow contaminants to enter the aquifer and find their way into the area’s wells, according to experts.
Among the data points presented at the hearings was a letter from geoscientist Dr. Robert Newton, who has studied the Ossipee Aquifer since 1971. He explained to the Zoning Board why granting a variance at the site “would show a wanton disregard for the health and safety and near-by residents.”
On December 8, Effingham’s Town Counsel Matthew Serge filed an eight-page response to the Superior Court appeal. He conceded that environmental impact data had been presented to the town, but said the board was “without sufficient knowledge or information to admit or deny the allegations.”
Nonetheless, he wrote, it was “reasonable under the circumstances” not to obtain a third-party engineering review of the application because the town “was under no obligation” to do so. Serge’s court filing also asserted that none of the plaintiffs have standing to bring an appeal to state court, including the two abutting families.
A Carroll County Superior Court judge will hold a “Hearing on the Merits” of the appeal on February 11.
Garg purchased the business from David and Lynn Boyle, who had closed and removed the gas pumps and tanks in 2015 to focus on the convenience store. Garg closed the store after he bought it, and made plans to expand the number of apartments and pump gas again. The site has been fenced-off to the public since the cease-and-desist order was issued in May.
In November, the Select Board received a letter from Garg asking for approval to finish backfilling the tanks and pipes and pave “disturbed surfaces” before the onset of winter. The board denied the request, saying it supported the zoning officer’s cease-and-desist order, and noting the applicant’s lack of an approved site plan.