Elm St. project hits snag over retaining walls | Local News
LACONIA – Work on a multi-million dollar commercial residential project being developed by Scott Everett has been halted by the city after hearing an appeal from an owner of Lakeport whose home is adjacent to the property.
Peter Brunette of 15 Park Street is appealing a decision by City Planning and Code Director Dean Trefethen that allows contractors to install a metal retaining wall just 2 feet from their property line. That decision violates the city’s zoning ordinance, which says no structure may be built within 5 feet of adjacent land, Brunette said in his appeal, filed Thursday.
The city hopes to schedule a special session of the Zoning Board of Adjustment for next Wednesday or Thursday to take up the matter, Trefethen said on Friday.
Installation of the retaining wall, which Brunette refuses, should begin on Monday. On Friday, Trefethen’s office issued an order to stop work, which was posted on bright orange posters on the construction site.
The project – called Paugus Elm – consists of two three-story buildings and a parking garage. The larger building will face Elm Street and will have commercial space on the ground floor and 16 residential units on the top two floors. The smaller building on Railroad Avenue will also have commercial space on the ground floor and four additional residential units above.
Aside from the backlash issue, Brunette says the retaining walls should not be approved as they were not included in the plans presented to the city and therefore were not approved by the planning authority when they received the final site plan approval for the project issued June 1.
Brunette chairs the planning committee, but because he is an appendage of Everett’s project, he has withdrawn from the committee’s deliberations and the vote on Paugus Elm’s motion due to a conflict of interest. In his appeal, however, he noted that he had spoken out in favor of the project at public hearings in December and earlier this month.
“I’m very much in favor of this development,” said Brunette. “My beef isn’t with Scott Everett. It’s with the city. I ask for a technical review, ”he added.
Trefethen said he had given administration approval for the retaining walls, as he believes it is not a structure but a “construction technique” to be installed to prevent the loose soil on the site from collapsing, while the foundations for the buildings are being built.
Brunette denies Trefethen’s arguments and explains in his appeal: “The sheet piling used on this site is not a temporary structure as the contractor intends to leave it in place and trim it with a cutting torch close to the ground.”
“They are deeper in the ground than the (building) foundation,” said Brunette in a telephone interview on Friday.
Everett said in an interview on Friday that he believed that he and others involved in the project “followed all rules and regulations and that we are within the boundaries set by the city.” “We are confident that we have taken all the necessary steps,” he added, but stressed that he also wanted to respect the wishes of his neighbors.
Brunette said the building application part should have mentioned the possible need for the retaining walls “even if it was part of the excavation work”.
“The plans weren’t complete,” he said.
Everett said someone representing the project would attend the ZBA’s special session.
On his appeal, Brunette requested the matter be dealt with by the Appeals Chamber of the City’s Building Code. However, on the advice of the city attorney, the city decided to refer the matter to the ZBA, as the appeal “has to do with the definition of the building development and therefore the building regulations are the main document,” explained Trefethen.
Two sections of the retaining wall have already been installed – one runs along the front of the property next to Elm Street and the other runs along part of Park Street which marks the western boundary of the development area.
The retaining walls are made of interlocking metal plates 18 inches to 2 feet wide and 25 to 30 feet long that are pounded into the ground with a pile driver.
“The earthquake-like seismic vibrations of the crane-operated ram will probably permanently damage the foundations of my house and my barn as well as a (historic) stone-insulated well in the courtyard,” explained Brunette in his appeal.
He also fears that the ground shocks could undermine the foundations of his home. He goes on to claim that driving the retaining wall this close to his property line will damage the roots and therefore potentially kill some very old cherry trees in his back garden adjoining the project site.
“I’m just trying to keep what I have,” said Brunette.