The following story is from the Conway Daily Sun
Effingham—July 13, 2023—A controversial plan to reopen a gas station at the former Boyle’s Market site was conditionally approved by the planning board Tuesday night. Meena’s proposal is to build a new gas station at the former Boyle’s Market at 41 Route 25 in Effingham. The Sun asked Meena principal Pankaj Garg and his representatives for comment after the approval was granted.
“The approval I think is wonderful but there’s, I’m sure, many steps left to go,” said Jim Doucette of Jim Doucette Real Estate, adding Meena will have to meet various conditions the planning board imposed.
“We’ll see if the people who are opposed to it take any action. Maybe the courts again, who knows?”
About 30 people attended Tuesday’s meeting. Previous meetings have attracted much larger crowds.
The proposed gas station has been the subject of debate for a couple years. After the zoning board gave the project a variance, abutters, Green Mountain Conservation Group and Ossipee Lake Alliance, sued. A Superior Court judge upheld the variance.
Environmentalists, led by Robert Newton, who is the principal of Geoscience Solutions LLC, argued that the site is over an environmentally sensitive are of the Ossipee Aquifer which provides water to several towns.
However, Mark Lucy of Horizons Engineering told the planning board this gas station would be built with “the best” technology to make it environmentally sound.
Newton had no comment after the meeting. Green Mountain Conservation Group issued this statement by executive director Matt Howe on Wednesday.
“GMCG is of course disappointed that a gas station will soon be operating in a location where it is prohibited under Effingham’s Groundwater Protection Ordinance,” said Howe.
“We take heart, however, in the ways this process has heightened awareness not only in Effingham, but all across New Hampshire, about why these ordinances exist and why, from a standpoint of both economic prosperity and public health, it is so important to protect the sole source of a community’s drinking water.”
The meeting itself involved the planning board editing a 100 paragraph document called the “findings of fact,” which was prepared by the planning board’s attorney Chris Boldt, of Donahue, Tucker & Ciandella in Portsmouth.
Voting in favor of the project were chair George Bull, Eliane Chick, Grace Fuller, Paul Potter, Gary Jewell and selectmen’s representative Chris Seamans.
Chairman George Bull said this approval process is new.
“In the past, boards had to give reasons for any denial,” said Bull. “The regulations changed where now the board also has to give findings of fact and reasons for approval or denial and because of the time that this has taken, we’ve had a lot of findings of fact.”
He described the findings of fact as a summary of what happened during all the meetings up until Tuesday. When the planning board was done editing the findings of fact and a list of conditions, they approved everything as a block.
The conditions were not read out loud and approved individually. This had the effect of leaving audience members in the dark as to what exactly the planning board approved as conditions for the project.
Public comment was not taken during the meeting.
The Sun asked Mark Lucy of Horizons Engineering, who represented Meena if he’s been to a meeting where the conditions of approval were not stated out loud by the planning board.
“I agree, that was different,” he said.
Meeting attendee Blair Folts wanted more transparency.
“I was concerned, because they were reviewing conditions that their attorney for the planning board had put together, but the public did not have a chance to see those,” said Folts. “They were not public and they will not be made public until after tonight.”
Meena’s attorney Matt Johnson told the Sun Wednesday morning that he didn’t have a copy of the finding of fact/conditions document yet. Readers may remember Johnson defeated Conway in a New Hampshire Supreme Court in a case about short-term rentals.
Bull told the Sun the finalized finding of fact with the conditions of approval will be written up and released in a few days.
Based on previous planning board meetings, the planning board’s conditions may include:
• Testing for volatile organic compounds is to be conducted quarterly at the public water well that serves the store and nearby apartments. Such compounds, known as VOCs, are chemicals used in gasoline and diesel.
• Testing for contamination will take place to determine if a stormwater mitigation system called a bio-retention basin will require an impermeable liner at the bottom.
• A copy of documentation from the state Department of Environmental Services stating that the state agency is comfortable with the distance between the fuel tanks and a well that serves the store and apartments.
• More detailed plan maps of the site.