SWANZEY — The Zoning Board of Adjustment on Monday denied a special exception to a developer hoping to build a four-story apartment building in North Swanzey.
Many local residents expressed opposition to the project in a public hearing that began two weeks ago and continued Monday night. No member of the public spoke in support at either session.
Avanru Development Group Ltd. of Walpole is proposing to build a four-story, 76-apartment building at 115 Old Homestead Highway (Route 32).
The apartments would provide affordable housing for seniors. CEO Jack Franks has said he wanted to allow seniors on fixed incomes to “continue to live in a community that they’ve grown to love.”
The 2.5-acre site near Keene Dillant-Hopkins Airport is in the business zone, which permits multifamily dwellings by special exception. That means for a project to go forward, the zoning board must determine it meets certain criteria.
The zoning board determined the application did not meet two of four criteria. Board members held that the proposed development was not similar to a use already authorized in the district and in an appropriate location. They also held that it would be “offensive” to the neighborhood, using a term from the town zoning ordinance, based on the testimony of nearby residents who said the building would dramatically alter the area’s rural character.
Avanru did not appear ready to drop the project. Sometime after 10 p.m., board Chairman Adam Mulhearn declared the application denied.
“All right,” Franks said. “So at what point do we ask for a rehearing?”
State law gives an applicant 30 days to ask the zoning board to reconsider. If denied, the applicant can sue in an effort to have a superior court judge overturn the zoning board’s decision.
About a dozen town residents commented on the project at the April 20 session, and some returned to speak again Monday, in addition to at least one new voice. The two meetings, both held on the videoconferencing platform Zoom, lasted a combined seven hours. The board also received numerous written comments.
The site of the proposed development lies between the airport and Wilson Pond. The area has a mix of businesses, single-family homes and open space.
Many commenters said the building would be an ill-fitting eyesore in a rural town and interfere with the scenic views.
“To fully express my deep feelings, I have to use an Old Testament word, if you don’t mind. It’s an abomination,” Bill Hattendorf said. “We love the rural character of our North Swanzey neighborhood. We love its single-family nature. This is where we want to live out our lives.”
He said a group of residents recently conducted their own site visit, holding helium-filled balloons about four stories in the air to see how the height would fit in with the surroundings. Photos of the experiment were shown on Zoom.
Commenters also worried the building would negatively affect property values and lead to an increase in traffic. They described Route 32, a two-lane state highway without sidewalks, as unsafe for pedestrians.
Franks stressed that the project would meet the district’s setback, height and vegetation requirements, including being at least 115 feet from the road. He also argued that new housing would be less disruptive than some other uses that the zoning ordinance authorizes there, such as a warehouse or hotel. And he said there is a serious need for affordable housing in the region.
Zoning board member Bryan Rudgers said few projects have drawn this level of attention.
“There was a lot of emotion from the callers,” he said. “I have not seen a case in all the years I’ve been on this board there’s been this many people involved or this many hours of testimony given.”