CONCORD, N.H. – Earlier this week, the State of New Hampshire Housing Appeals Board overturned a denied variance request for an 81-unit apartment building in Hooksett.
The property, located at 2 College Park Dr., contains a 100,000 square foot structure once used by Cigna for office space. Chelmsford Hooksett Properties LLC proposed to renovate and convert the existing building into market-rate residential apartments, which is not allowed in the town’s mixed-use district.
The Hooksett Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) denied Chelmsford Hooksett LLC’s request for a variance in November 2021, and denied a second request in April 2022.
Deliberations by the Housing Appeals Board, it was determined that assertions made by the Hooksett ZBA under RSA 674:33 I(a)(2), better known as the “five criteria”, the core questions to be asked by any ZBA in New Hampshire when determining whether a variance should be granted.
Assertions that the development would be out of character with the neighborhood were believed to be unfounded given nearby existing residential properties. Claims that traffic from the new apartments would cause undue hardship to neighbors was also challenged when traffic experts for the applicant indicated that traffic would actually be lower compared to the building’s previous use and the town did not provide a contrasting traffic study to contradict that assertion.
In the board’s ruling, granting the variance would have given the applicant “substantial justice,” another one of the five criteria, given the costs of maintaining the property, the fact that it has remained dormant for several years even though the applicant has been trying to put into use and the general need for housing in the state.
The board also agreed that the request for a variance would relief undue hardship on the applicant, disagreeing with the ZBA’s assertion that there were other uses that the land on which the building stood could be reused for other purposes and instead focusing on the applicant’s assertion that the building itself had become obsolete for its original purpose of housing offices.