Judge Upholds Effingham Gas Station Variance

Effingham—June 12, 2022—In a 15-page decision, Superior Court Judge Amy Ignatius upheld the Effingham Zoning Board’s decision to grant relief to Meena LLC to construct a gas station in the town’s Groundwater Protection District.

Judge Ignatius wrote “The standard of [the court’s] review is not whether the court would find as the ZBA did, but whether the evidence reasonably supports the ZBA’s findings.” In this regard, she ruled, the ZBA’s decision was “not illegal.”

To approve the variance, the ZBA had to determine the request for relief from the zoning ordinance’s prohibition against a gas station at the Meena site would “not be contrary to the public interest.”

Further, the board had to find that the spirit of the ordinance would be observed; substantial justice would be done; the value of surrounding properties would not be diminished; and enforcement of the ordinance would cause Meena “unnecessary hardship.”

The Superior Court appeal was filed by Meena abutters Tammy McPherson and William Bartoswicz, joined by Ossipee Lake Alliance and Green Mountain Conservation Group. They argued to the court that Meena’s variance application failed to meet any of the five requirements.

But in appeals of such rulings, the findings of municipal boards are deemed “prima facie lawful and reasonable” unless the plaintiffs can show otherwise.

Judge Ignatius found the Certified Record of the proceedings showed the Zoning Board considered each of the five requirements for a variance and determined they had been met, thus establishing a decision that was not “unlawful and unreasonable.”

Judge Ignatius also ruled the two conservation organizations had “standing” in the case based on their many years of involvement in the “protection of groundwater and the environmental health of the immediate area,” rejecting the Town of Effingham’s claim that the groups could not show a “direct, definite interest” in the proceeding.

In a joint statement after the ruling, the Co-Executive Director of Ossipee Lake Alliance, David Smith, and Green Mountain Conservation Group Executive Director Matt Howe said “While we respect the basis for the Court’s ruling, our organizations are unwavering in our stance that a gas station should never again operate at the former Boyle’s Market in Effingham.”

“The Court’s decision does not change the fact that a gas station is a prohibited use at that location based upon the Groundwater Protection Ordinance approved by Effingham voters in 2011. It also does not change the fact that Meena LLC installed gasoline storage tanks at the site prior to receiving the proper permits.”

“GMCG, Ossipee Lake Alliance and concerned abutters and citizens will continue to make the case to the Effingham Planning Board that they must deny this application in order to protect human health and safeguard the sole drinking water supply for a majority of the people who live here.”

In a second statement, abutting property owners Tammy McPherson and Bill Bartoswicz said “We are appreciative of all the community support, and the two organizations that have helped fight to protect our drinking water.”

“We will continue to advocate for water protection, and we will continue to ask that the Effingham Planning Board deny this application. The town has an Aquifer Protection Ordinance to protect drinking water, and they must honor their own law,” their statement concluded.

The Effingham Planning Board last met to consider the Meena Site Plan Application in May, and will continue its review on July 7, at 6:30 p.m. in Town Hall.

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