Still No Permits for Hillside Estates Fire Pond

SANDOWN – While an account was funded at the last minute to forestall the planning board’s discussion or vote on whether to revoke an application for the Hillside Estates subdivision, there is an outstanding concern among board members that an after-the-fact Conditional Use Permit (CUP) is still stagnating for that subdivision.

Developers are required to keep a positive balance in the account, so should the town engineer or the wetland scientist need to look at a developer’s site, any billing for that work is taken out of the special account.
In a contentious split vote in April, the board agreed to allow Montana Realty Trust to redraw lot lines for five properties to create a sixth lot in the Hillside Estates subdivision, this in spite of the fact that no permit was sought for digging a fire pond in that area. Members Ed Mencis and Matt Brown, while voting to approve the request, were sure that the requisite after-the-fact permits would be obtained.
But the matter drags on.
Also voting for approval of the April request with no strings attached was Ernie Brown. Against were Matt Russell and Steve Meisner.
A check for the account was brought to the town on Tuesday Oct. 15, the day the planning board was set to discuss the matter.
Developer Bob Villella of Montana Realty, who in recent years has had several cease and desist orders issued on his properties, many wetlands violations and has been accused of unnecessarily dragging issues out, is again at the center of the discussion. Villella is the most prolific developer in town, in recent years building many more homes than the next closest builder.
Once again the matter hinges on a wetlands disturbance. Fire chief Bill Tapley requested that a fire pond be dug in the subdivision, and though planning membership was unanimously pleased that fire protection was improved for the area, there was a split on whether construction was handled appropriately. While some thought that as long as after–the-fact permits were obtained and the fire pond was in, they were fine with wetlands violations, others, including Russell and Mark Traeger, noting Villella’s history in town, were concerned about how the matter was handled and were skeptical about a quick resolution.
When town engineer Steve Keach inspected the property after the board approved the lot line redraw request, he found that the area was a vernal pool, a more closely protected wetland. Keach informed the board that a New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services wetlands permit should have been obtained prior to the work.
A CUP is issued to allow for land use that isn’t expressly allowed within the ordinances and is determined as work that needs a closer watch to make sure problems don’t arise from the work. Work in wetlands routinely requires a CUP.
On Oct. 15, acting chair Russell noted that though the special account was brought up to date, there was still the issue of the fire pond and lack of CUP to be addressed. He sought the quickest way to rectify the situation.
Lack of a CUP is a violation of the town’s zoning rules.
After the account was brought up to date, the planning board received a letter from Villella’s lawyer stating that Villella was not properly informed of the meeting. The letter also questioned the ability of the planning board to enforce town rules by revoking the application. Villella has repeatedly challenged the planning board and selectmen’s actions on the basis that he was not informed of a meeting.
Last month Tapley spearheaded the completion of the CUP with Lavelle Associates, engineer for the project, in an effort to promptly resolve the issue. Tapley took on the work to make sure the current homeowner was not held responsible for the matter – as when the planning board approved the redrawn lot lines, it was found that Villella had already sold the property.
Tapley was later informed that Villella would be responsible for the CUP. Since the CUP application is complete, it needs only an attached fee to move forward.
Board members were unaware of any progress on the attainment of a CUP, though Mencis said he thinks the matter would be resolved in “a very short time.”
Because the matter was not on the agenda for the night, the board agreed to move on from the discussion and discuss it at the following meeting.

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