Spotlight Returns to Effingham Board Next Week

Effingham—January 26, 2023—Effingham’s Zoning Board of Adjustment will meet in public session on Wednesday, February 1, to again take up the question of whether the Planning Board violated the Zoning Ordinance by not requiring a Special Use Permit for a controversial gas station on the town’s border with Ossipee.

Ossipee property owners Bill Bartoswicz and Tammy McPherson, joined by conservation groups Ossipee Lake Alliance and Green Mountain Conservation Group, appealed the Planning Board’s decision to the ZBA, saying it violated the ordinance’s Section 2208 requirements for storing and handling gasoline.

The ZBA heard the appellants’ argument at its January 4 meeting. One board member said he was ready to vote to require a permit, but a second said he needed more time to decide, and the board continued the meeting to February 1.

The Special Use Permit issue stems from the ZBA’s 2021 approval of a variance for Conway developer Meena LLC to pump gas on its property, where gas stations are prohibited. As part of its approval, the ZBA directed the company to submit a stormwater management plan and a spill prevention plan to the Planning Board as part of its Site Plan Application.

North Point Engineering, the Planning Board’s independent consultant on the gas station application, advised the board that Meena also needed to apply for a Special Use Permit because the company’s projected use of 30,000 gallons of gasoline exceeds the 100-gallon ordinance threshold for requiring a permit.

When the Planning Board took up the issue, however, it decided the stormwater management and spill prevention plans were sufficient, and it would be “redundant” to require a Special Use Permit.

The appellants say a Special Use Permit would require Meena to submit plans to maintain a minimum four-feet of separation between stormwater and groundwater, and remediate potentially carcinogenic naphthalene from the soil where a previous gas station was abandoned eight years ago, neither of which are part of the stormwater and spill protection plans.

They say the Planning Board’s decision inequitably favors Meena by lowering the ordinance’s environmental standards, and deprives the community of important information needed to determine the potential impact on drinking water and the aquifer.

At the January 4 ZBA hearing, the Planning Board’s attorney did not directly address or defend the board’s reasoning for not requiring a permit. Instead, he aligned the board with Meena’s position that it should be exempt from the permit process because gas stations are prohibited on its property.

The appellants’ attorney responded that it does not make sense that a prohibited use is still a prohibited use after the company was granted a variance.

A Superior Court judge is also reviewing the Planning Board’s decision. In September, the court ordered the board to suspend consideration of the Site Plan Application until it could review the permit issue. A scheduled October 6 Planning Board hearing on the application was canceled as a result.

The Planning Board in August gave Meena a September 15 deadline to submit a final application after the company several times caused public hearings to be canceled due to its late submission of documents that were revised to address errors and omissions documented by North Point.

Meena met the deadline, its final submission was reviewed by North Point, and North Point’s report was published. But neither the report nor the application have been discussed in public session because of the court-ordered stay.

The ZBA’s February 1 hearing on the Special Use Permit appeal will be at 6:30 p.m. in Effingham’s Town Offices. If there is a Zoom option, the link will be posted on the town’s website in advance of the meeting.

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