Effingham Gas Station Appeals Likely to be Heard in July

Effingham—May 12, 2024—Two pending appeals of Effingham ZBA and Planning Board decisions in the Meena LLC gas station case may be consolidated in Superior Court and heard in July.

In February, Meena residential abutters Tammy McPherson and William Bartoswicz filed an appeal of the Planning Board’s approval of Meena’s site plan, and in April filed an appeal of the ZBA’s denial of their claim that the site plan approval violated the zoning ordinance.

At an administrative hearing on Friday, Hillsborough County Superior Court Judge Michael Klass set July 17 to hear the appeal of the ZBA decision, and said he would hear the appeal of the Planning Board decision at the same time if the attorneys wanted to consolidate the cases. The Planning Board case is currently scheduled to be heard on June 6.

The availability of Certified Records for the appeals was discussed as a factor in the courtroom schedule. The Planning Board last month submitted a Certified Record of more than 1,400 pages of documents pertaining to the years-long case.

The appellants’s attorney, Biron Bedard, said a review of the documents for completeness is ongoing, but the volume of material makes it a challenge to meet the previously set June 6 court date.

ZBA attorney Christopher Drescher said a previously set June 4 court date for the ZBA appeal was also a challenge because documents for the Certified Record in that case are still being compiled.

Judge Klass postponed the ZBA case to July 17. He set a deadline of May 17 for submission of the documents for that case, and offered that an extended-length session on July 17 could also accommodate hearing the Planning Board appeal.

Planning Board attorney Christopher Boldt was not at Friday’s hearing. Attorney Matthew Johnson attended, representing Meena LLC as an intervenor.

Two Cases at Issue
The Planning Board portion of the appeal to be heard this summer stems from the board’s decision to grant final approval for Meena’s site plan after the developer met several conditions the board established in July.

For several months last autumn, opponents of the plan unsuccessfully argued to the board that Meena’s stormwater management plan was still inadequate despite multiple rewrites, and the “Findings of Fact” document the board was using contained errors, omissions, and inconsistencies.

The abutters’s appeal claims the Planning Board failed to protect the public health, safety and welfare, as required by the town’s Site Plan Review Regulations.

“The [board’s] approval takes a safe, environmentally stable site with existing viable commercial and residential uses and adds a use which is dangerous and threatening to the aquifer and abutters,” per the appeal document.

The second claim to be heard by the court relates to a September appeal to the ZBA that the Planning Board’s conditional site plan approval in July violated zoning by allowing gas pumps, fuel tanks, and stormwater management devices to be located within the town’s 50-foot lot line setbacks.

The appeal also stated that the former convenience store must be brought into compliance with current size restrictions because it lost its grandfathered non-conforming use status after being closed for more than two years.

The ZBA heard the abutters’s appeal at a chaotic January 3 meeting which began with the board chair incorrectly describing the purpose of the hearing, and later saw Effingham Select Board member Chris Seamans attempt to shout down a member of the public who was trying to speak.

The ZBA voted 3-2 to deny the appeal, and a few weeks later denied a motion to reconsider.

In their April appeal to Superior Court, the abutters said the hearing was “replete with numerous deficiencies,” including meeting minutes that were “poorly written, incomplete, and inaccurate,” and the lack of a written Notice of Decision.

The appeal further stated that ZBA members “did not adequately address each issue within the appeal” and “appeared confused” about what they were voting on.

The webpage https://bit.ly/meenagas has a chronology of the gas station case and access to all case documents.

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