By THOMAS P. CALDWELL, LACONIA DAILY SUN
GILFORD — Objections by abutters and questions about how strict an interpretation of the zoning ordinance is warranted ultimately failed to persuade the Gilford Planning Board to deny an application that seeks to make a commercial cottage colony off Scenic Drive less nonconforming than it currently is.
Dave Farley of Diversified Marine, representing Todd and Maureen Berkowitz, successfully argued that the replacement of several buildings, while not bringing the colony into conformance with all setbacks, brings it into closer conformity, while also improving drainage on the property to prevent washouts and stop organic matter from getting into the lake.
A proposed pervious deck and pavilion will cover less square footage than the total space of the buildings being replaced, but it will be larger than any single building, posing a dilemma for the Planning Board.
“You can repair a nonconforming structure, but the size of a rebuilt structure cannot exceed the size of the original,” said John Ayer, planning and land use director. The ordinance makes no provision for using multiple structures in that calculation, he said.
Abutters Janet and Alan Rose argued that because the Berkowitzes already took down a pumphouse on the property, there is no way of knowing what the actual height or square footage was. Ayer noted that the plan lists the pumphouse as being 82 square feet, while the state Department of Environmental Services, which approved the drainage plan, calculated the size to be 61.61 square feet.
Jeff Merritt, who presented plans showing the original topography, what is being removed, and what will ultimately be on the property, said his calculations included the overhang of the eaves, while the DES did not include the eaves in its measurements.
The new pavilion will have a maximum height of 12 feet and cover 892 square feet, Merritt said. The pumphouse, at 82 square feet, the former deck and stairs leading to the dock, at 953 square feet, and a gazebo, at 99 square feet, are being removed, he said. The new staircase will be 194 square feet.
“The lot coverage will have a net decrease of 1.7 percent,” Merritt said, “and that’s consistent with the intent and spirit of the town’s regulations.”
For Richard Grenier, the selectmen’s representative to the Planning Board, the concern was the Berkowitzes’ plan to build an 8-foot-high fence around the perimeter of the property, tapering to 3 feet at the entrance.
“The fence is a bone of contention with the abutter,” Grenier noted.
It was the erection of a short section of fence that originally pitted the neighbors against one another, because it obscured the abutters’ view of the lake and affected the air flow to a cottage near the property line. The revised plan presented on Monday night increased the height and length of the fence.
Maureen Berkowitz said they were putting up the fence to ensure their privacy, since the Roses were taking down sections of their own fence overlooking her property.
“They’re literally looking into our yard,” she said. “That’s what a buffer is for.”
The Roses had erected the original fence, but later took down two sections to improve air flow and give them a view of the lake.
“I’m very concerned about the notion of putting in a new fence, raising the height to 8 feet, and running it as far to the lake as possible,” said Alan Rose.
Planning Board member Jack Landow pointed out that residents have a right to erect fences on their property.
Board members discussed the danger of setting a precedent by allowing an applicant to include multiple buildings in calculations for a replacement nonconforming structure, but they agreed that the plan makes the property less nonconforming.
“They’re actually reducing the amount of the impact, and that’s enough for me to say yes,” said Landow.
Ayer pointed out that the board’s decision could be appealed to the Gilford Zoning Board of Adjustment, which would decide whether the Planning Board’s reasoning was sound.
The decision to approve the plan was unanimous.
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