RINDGE — A state panel is slated to weigh in on a controversial proposal to build 59 homes on Route 119 that local officials blocked earlier this year, saying it violated wetland-conservation rules.
The possible involvement by state officials comes after Rindge’s zoning board of adjustment declined in June to grant a special exception that Navian Development Co. had requested for the project, which the local planning board had previously approved.
Navian asked the state’s new Housing Appeals Board on Aug. 24, however, to review the zoning board’s decision, according to HAB Clerk Elizabeth Menard.
Created earlier this year, the three-member HAB is charged with adjudicating disputes over local planning and zoning board decisions, municipal land-use regulations, and property-related permits and fees, among other housing issues. The board is intended to resolve those cases more quickly than a superior court; appellants can bring their claim to either body, but not to both.
In its first-ever case, the HAB overturned in May a prior decision by the Francestown Planning Board to reject a four-lot subdivision, ruling that the local officials had failed to cite any legitimate violations of the town’s zoning rules.
Menard said Wednesday that the HAB has agreed to hear Navian’s appeal, which contends that a Rindge zoning board member was personally biased against its project and that the board’s decision to deny a special exception was “unreasonable and unlawful.” A hearing for the case will be scheduled after the town submits a record of its proceedings related to that development project, which is required within 30 days of the initial appeal, she said.
An attorney for Navian declined Wednesday to comment on the company’s HAB case.
Rindge selectboard Chairman Karl Pruter said Thursday morning that he expects Navian to adjust its plans and apply for a new special exception that would satisfy the zoning board's concerns. The company would then pause its appeal to the HAB, he said.
Navian attorney John Ratigan confirmed to The Sentinel on Sept. 8 that the developer had revised its application and requested to stay the HAB case. That case will be dismissed if the new request is approved, he said.
Navian, which shares an address in Rindge with the construction firm Boss Contractors Inc., introduced the Route 119 development in July 2020, when the company requested approval for it from the planning board.
At the time, the project — meant for a 110-acre vacant lot across from Foster Terrace — called for creating a combined 66 units on the site, including 26 single-family homes and large number of multifamily units, according to minutes from the planning board meeting. Sixteen of those units were initially proposed as workforce housing, which must be affordable to anyone earning up to the median income for the area.
Several Rindge residents voiced displeasure with the Navian proposal at the July 2020 planning board meeting, saying it would sully the town’s rural character, according to reporting by The Monadnock Ledger-Transcript.
Navian later revised its proposal to comprise 59 units, eight of which would be considered workforce housing, according to minutes from a planning board meeting this past January. Board members voted 4-3 to approve the development at that session.
However, the five-member zoning board voted June 2 to deny Navian a special exception for the project, which the company had requested in order to build roads across wetland areas at the Route 119 site.
The board found that while the proposal satisfied all four requirements for a special exception, Navian was unable to prove that it wouldn’t violate a town ordinance barring drainage swales within 50 feet of wetlands, the company told the HAB in its appeal. Rindge zoning officials declined in July to reconsider Navian’s request for a special exception but have suggested that the development firm instead apply for a variance, which is easier to obtain, according to board member Deni Dickler.
In its HAB appeal, however, Navian argued that zoning officials “could not have reasonably found” that the company’s project would violate the wetlands regulations, saying Rindge has long interpreted that ordinance to allow construction similar to what it’s proposed. Navian also said that Dickler, an alternate conservation commission member, had declined to recuse herself from the special-exception hearings despite having drafted a letter for the commission earlier this year noting concerns about the Navian project, citing minutes from that group’s Jan. 28 meeting.
“Given her personal biases and participation in a commission that opposed Navian’s proposed site work, Ms. Dickler had a direct and personal interest in the outcome of the ZBA’s proceedings that differed from the interests of other citizens,” the company wrote in its appeal.
Dickler told The Sentinel on Wednesday that the conservation commission’s Jan. 28 minutes were inaccurate and that she hadn’t expressed any public comments on the Navian proposal before the zoning board meetings.
“In no way did I draft any letter about this,” she said.
This story has been updated with new information from Navian's attorney.