MANCHESTER, N.H. – Is it a needed part of the solution for a city badly in need of housing or a proposal that would substantially impact an adjacent urban neighborhood? That was the question on Thursday night as the Manchester Zoning Board of Adjustment heard a second rehearing for a project at 1230 Elm St., a building within the city’s central business district.
Brady Sullivan seeks to develop 100 dwelling units at the building, which currently has 19,612 square feet. Under the city’s zoning ordinance for minimum buildable lot area, 56,500 square feet would be required for 100 dwelling units in that area.
The variance was granted after a delay in November and a first rehearing was heard in December. Attorney John Cronin, representing Brady Sullivan, made appeals to the board that the rehearing request be denied and that there be no public hearing if the rehearing request is accepted. Both of those requests were shot down by the board.
Cronin then asserted that ZBA Member Anne Ketterer recuse herself from the second rehearing. Cronin’s reasoning for this request came due to assertions made by Ketterer regarding facts she shared related to the proposal seen as negative, which he saw as giving her implicit bias against the proposal. He added that if Ketterer did not recuse herself, it could open the city up to lawsuits. Ketterer refused to recuse herself, stating that the facts she shared were public information.
Cronin continued to express concern over the rehearing as a “do-over,” rather than the rarity that New Hampshire judicial precedent has made regarding rehearings and that no new information had arisen compared to the initial hearings.
With the rehearing occurring despite his disapproval, Cronin reiterated statements made earlier as to why a variance is needed. He noted that the building, which previously was an office building, was no longer commercially viable given market factors that have reduced the demand for office space in downtown Manchester.
He also noted a variety of other allowable uses in that area under the city’s current zoning ordinance that would have a more deleterious effect on the neighbors living behind the building in the neighborhood called Amoskeag Terrace, such as congregate housing. He also said that filling the building would have a positive economic impact on the city, that parking concerns made by the neighbors are irrelevant given the lack of required parking spaces in the central business district, and that other comparable projects have been given variances in similar circumstances.
Additionally, Cronin noted that the city is currently undergoing a review of its zoning ordinances and implied that this request may not even need a variance once the new zoning ordinances are finalized, given the city’s master plan seeking to increase density in the city’s downtown area.
Attorneys representing Amoskeag Terrace also repeated comments made at earlier hearings in opposition to the project that included the difficulty for new residents at 1230 Elm St. to find a place for dog waste, traffic congestion that would be caused by loading and unloading at the new project and the impact on the neighborhood’s character if parking spaces became unavailable to Amoskeag Terrace residents.
They also indicated that they are amenable to the project, but with a lower number of units than requested by Brady Sullivan, something Cronin said was not economically viable unless the number of bedrooms per unit were drastically increased, something that he indicated would not be practical.
Whether economic hardship fit within one of the five criteria needed to grant a variance was disputed, with representatives of Amoskeag Terrace saying it was not and representatives of Brady Sullivan saying it could not unless there were other extenuating factors.
The number of parking spaces available to 1230 Elm St. and Amoskeag Terrace was unclear at times during the discussion, including spaces leased by Amoskeag Terrace nearby in the 900 Degrees parking lot and the Pearl Street parking lot.
Comments during the public hearing were evenly divided, with almost all speakers living close to 1230 Elm St. Supporters of allowing the variance stated that the additional tenants would have a positive impact on the city overall. Opponents reiterated concerns over the increased traffic impacting the ability to leave their homes and other concerns over how the new residents at 1230 Elm St. would harm the quality of life in their homes.
Chairman Robert Breault said that this variance is acceptable given that the building is currently underutilized and could become a blighted property, impacting nearby properties negatively. That motion was passed 3-2. Breault was joined by Michael Simoneau and Greg Powers in supporting the motion with Ketterer and Joseph Prieto opposing.
Ketterer and Prieto said that housing could work at 1230 Elm St., but the proposal requested by Brady Sullivan did not meet the threshold of a hardship required to grant a variance.
Editor’s Note: Brady Sullivan and 900 Degrees are financial supporters through advertising of Manchester Ink Link.