This storage shed at 145 Daisy Gardner Road in Laconia was given approval years ago with the understanding it would house a lawn tractor and be a temporary structure. Now Laconia officials say it violates zoning rules. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)
Zoning panel refuses to grant variance
By RICK GREEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — Three years ago, the city told Linda and Dennis Wright they didn't need a building permit to erect a temporary structure to cover farm equipment.
Once it was built, a code enforcement officer found no problem with the Quonset hut-like building, which uses two large storage containers as walls to support a rounded, 32-foot white plastic roof.
Now, the city says the beige shed violates zoning rules that prohibit storage containers in the area and violates setback requirements. This week, the Zoning Board of Adjustment denied the couple's request for a variance to allow the building, which will likely now have to be removed.
Those involved with this case say it speaks to larger issues involving the prevalence of shipping containers, the way buildings are assessed, the definition of temporary structures and the city's responsibility to make things right after erring in an initial finding.
Philip Brouillard, the couple's attorney, said the Wrights, who live in a home on 9 acres of land at 145 Daisy Gardner Road, never intended to do anything wrong and communicated with the city early in the process to make sure they were acting appropriately.
They wanted a structure that could house a tractor used to mow their property and some nearby state land, he said. The shed is partially screened by trees.
Brouillard said he thought the couple had a good chance to get a variance because the city had no initial objection to the structure, but he understands why the board acted the way it did.
“These containers are popping up all over town,” he said. “The board wanted to take a hard line on these containers, except where they belong, and they didn't want to set a precedent.”
He also described the violation of the 40-foot setback requirement as a good-faith error. Part of the building meets the requirement, but the road curves, and a portion of the building extends a little too far.
The Wrights' property is next to Swain State Forest and about a mile from homes on Leighton Avenue North on the shore of Lake Winnisquam. Two people who live along the lake urged the board to deny the Wrights' application.
Art Abelmann questioned whether the structure was truly temporary. The Wrights said the roof was welded and bolted to the shipping containers and noted that it would be difficult to move to meet the setback requirement.
City zoning rules are silent on the question of whether a “temporary” structure becomes permanent after a certain amount of time.
Abelmann said there are tax ramifications.
“If this building has been there and now we call it permanent because of the welding, has it been assessed as such and are the owners paying the appropriate taxes?” he said. “If I'm paying my share and we're going to call this a permanent building, let's have it assessed as such.
“I don't say this against the Wrights. I say this about every property in the city. To my understanding, there are plenty of these kinds of situations where people have built temporary structures, which means the tax revenue is not there, impacting all of us by the fact that we still need to have that revenue come from somewhere.”
He also questioned the Wrights' contention that the setback violation results from a curving road. Aerial images seem to show the road is fairly straight near the shed.
Abelmann also provided the board with photographs showing cranes in the structure, which he said is far taller than would be needed to store a tractor and other farm implements. The couple run Reliable Crane Service.
Dave Greski, who lives on Leighton Avenue North, said the cranes are not in keeping with the rural nature of the area.
“We're very concerned about the change of the neighborhood from being a farm area where the applicants own property from being turned into a commercial property,” he said.
Planning Director Dean Trefethen said the Wrights' company meets the requirements for operating at that site.
Brouillard, the couple's attorney, said they haven't decided whether they will appeal the board's action. Another option would be to build a permanent structure without storage containers and with a proper setback from the road.
“A couple of abutters at the end of the road had a hair across their posterior, but the Wrights could have the same building with a permanent foundation and permanent walls a couple feet away from where the current structure is located,” he said.
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