Pelham - Windham News 2 - August 26, 2011
Route 28 in Windham 603-458-2830
New State Law Cuses Controversy at Local Level
by Barbara O’Brien A new state law, intended to restore the status of lots merged involuntarily by municipal action, is causing significant controversy amongst town officials in Windham.
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State Representative David Bates said the combining of lots without the permission of the landowner has “been going on for decades” in the State of New Hampshire, but, due to recent legislative action, such transactions are now officially prohibited, as “unjust and unconstitutional.” The first portion of the new legislation became effective in 2010, and while it made such involuntary mergers illegal, it did not provide a remedy for landowners whose lots had already been merged without their approval. As a result, this past July, State Legislators approved a stipulation (House Bill 216) stating that lots must be restored to their pre-merger condition upon the request of the landowner. The law applies to lots involuntarily merged prior to September 18, 2010. “The new law is meant to be a remedy,” Bates stated. “It should not be financially onerous” to property owners. “The town has an obligation to restore what was taken,” Bates added. “There is no discretion to not grant” the pre-merger status,” he said, adding that the procedure should be as low cost as possible to the property owner. Windham Selectmen expressed various views on the implementation of the newly enacted legislation. Selectman Roger Hohenberger wanted to know how town officials could be sure that a property owner’s claim or request is valid. “What about those who are just trying to take advantage?” Hohenberger questioned, referring to someone who might have voluntarily merged lots in the past and now wants them separated again for financial reasons. Bates said town officials are in no way obligated to just take someone’s word for how the merger happened. “It has to be on record,” Bates said, adding, “It’s very objectively verifiable.” “You can’t expect residents to pay to
unmerge lots that the town illegally merged sometime in the past,” Selectmen’s Vice- Chairman Bruce Breton commented. Bates said involuntary mergers did take place in Windham in past years, but it does not appear to be as common in Windham as some other municipalities across New Hampshire. The reasons involuntary mergers occurred to begin with were generally due to zoning, property assessment, and taxation. The issue of involuntarily merged lots came to the forefront in Windham, recently, even before the newest legal stipulation was adopted in July, when resident Charles Roberts came to town officials in regard to seven lots on Cobbetts Pond Road that he said were involuntarily merged back in the 1960s. Roberts now wants four of those lots to be restored to their pre-merger status. No decision has yet been reached on how best to handle Roberts’ request for restoration of the original lots. To keep any undue financial burden from being placed on Windham taxpayers, and at the request of other town officials, Economic Development Director Laura Scott developed a number of proposed procedures and associated fees dealing with the restoration of involuntarily merged property. “If the town doesn’t have fees, then the cost of any research is on taxpayers,” Town Administrator David Sullivan said. Included in the original proposal was the establishment of a $1,500 escrow account, to be paid by the property owner seeking remediation. Those funds would be used for researching the property owner’s claims, with any unspent money to be returned at the end of the process. “It’s easier to collect money up front than it is to chase it down later,” Scott said of any funds that might need to be expended in researching the lot mergers. Charles Roberts, who attended the selectmen’s meeting on August 15, said he stands in opposition to any fees being charged to “the victims of an involuntary merger.” Being charged fees to have property restored to its pre-merger status “is
not the intention of the new law,” Roberts said. Hohenberger said he agrees that no fees should be charged “to true victims.” Another stipulation proposed in the procedures set forth by Scott calls for the notification of abutters (at a cost of $6 per property abutter). Roberts disagreed with this proposal, as well, saying “There was no notice to abutters, no notice to the property owner when the lots were merged.” “This should be nothing more than an administrative correction,” Roberts said. “The burden to prove otherwise is on the town,” he stated. Selectman Kathleen DiFruscia said she felt torn on the issue of charging someone for something that was not his or her doing. “You’re talking a mistake made by a municipality, at no fault of the property owner,” DiFruscia said. “However, I don’t like passing the cost on to the taxpayers, either.” Selectman Phil LoChiatto also said he was “an advocate of no fees.” “You shouldn’t have to pay to have a municipal mistake corrected.” Selectman Breton said he agreed with DiFruscia and LoChiatto. Offering another point of view was former selectman Betty Dunn, who served in that capacity in the 1980s. Dunn said that it was her recollection that some mergers benefited property owners, because they paid less tax on one lot than they did on several separate lots. “Why didn’t these landowners complain at the time (of the merger), if they didn’t like it?” Dunn asked. After additional discussion, the majority of selectmen agreed to set the application fee to have involuntarily merged lots restored to their original status at $50, rather than the $100 proposed by Scott. They also agreed to omit the $1,500 escrow for research and legal fees, at least for the time being. Anyone requesting that their lots be unmerged will also be charged a $25 newspaper notification fee and $6 per certified abutter notification.
Selectmen said they were uncertain how
many properties in Windham would fall into the involuntary merger category and were, therefore, taking a wait and see attitude.
Virginia Earthquake Felt as Far North as Maine, Hurricane May Affect NH
by Jay Hobson
A magnitude 5.9 earthquake centered in Virginia was felt as far north as Maine.
Seismologists confirmed that a magnitude 5.9 earthquake with an epicenter in rural Virginia was responsible for rattling the White House and other buildings in Washington, DC and people’s nerves as far away as Maine.
According to Maureen Sullivan of the Department of Public Works, there were no calls from residents to the department and no
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damage reported. The quake was felt as a rolling motion in the Merrimack Valley as the temblor’s rocky wave crossed the landscape.
Hurricane Irene, currently a category 3 hurricane with 115 m.p.h. sustained winds is churning northward in the Caribbean and is on a projected path that will bring it directly over the Merrimack Valley early Monday/Tuesday morning as a category 1 hurricane with sustained winds of 80 miles per hour and gusts up to 100 m.p.h. according to NOAA Hurricane Center.
Parking Lot Plan Approved
by Barbara O’Brien Plans are to have the new parking lot at
Windham’s Griffin Park completed before the paving companies for the season in a couple of months.
Selectmen accepted the proposed parking plans plans earlier this month. The majority of voters had already approved the $200,000 project in March. Parking at Griffin Park has been an ongoing problem, with many people being forced to park along Range Road during major events, causing safety concerns for motorists and pedestrians. The delay in getting the proposed plans
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approved by town officials was due largely to concerns about water run-off causing problems for Cobbetts Pond; an already endangered body of water. As the result of questions raised by members of the Cobbetts Pond Improvement Association (CPIA), local engineer Peter Zohdi developed drainage plans intended to alleviate these concerns.
According to Zohdi, the new parking lot will
be divided into two different drainage areas with catch basins and curbing, a plan intended to result in less impact downstream. A larger retention pond is also included in the plans, Zohdi said. Originally, all drainage was diverted to only one swale.
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Zohdi also said that town officials need to get a driveway permit from the New Hampshire Department of Transportation (DOT) in order to cut a new entrance to Griffin Park. Range Road is a State-owned roadway. The new entrance will be located 20 feet closer to Johnson’s Farm than one of the existing entranceways, one slated to be eliminated. When completed, the new parking lot will be one way in and one way out only. The exiting third entranceway will be gated and only available to emergency vehicles. Unfortunately, a historic stone wall and a number of trees will need to be removed to accommodate the new parking area. Zohdi commented that the stones could be set aside and perhaps reused at a later time. The cost of rebuilding the stone wall would be very expensive, he said, somewhere in the vicinity of $48,000. “Some of the stones weigh hundreds of pounds,” Zohdi noted. Also, an existing granite monument and several light poles will need to be relocated as the result of the new parking lot construction. The new lot will include 235 parking places; 16 of which will be designated for handicapped parking. The existing wooden railing will be kept in place. Derek Munson, president of the Cobbetts Pond
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Improvement Association, said that, given the limitation of available funds for the project, he feels the drainage proposal “is adequate.” Selectman Kathleen DiFruscia, also a member of the CPIA, said she feels the current proposal is an improvement. It won’t totally alleviate the situation, DiFruscia said, “but will go a long way toward protecting the watershed.” Former selectman Charles McMahon said he feels the new plans will result in “a real improvement in traffic control.” “It will be a whole lot safer for pedestrians,” he said. McMahon has been very active over the years in spearheading improvements to Griffin Park. McMahon said he would like to see the parking lot construction largely completed by the time the annual town- sponsored Harvest Fest rolls around the end of September. Plans are to put the project out to bid as soon as possible. Selectman Bruce Breton wanted to know if the work could be done by town employees, rather than hiring outside contractors. Highway Agent Jack McCartney said his department already has ample projects to tackle before winter weather arrives.
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