PETERBOROUGH — The latest move in a months-long fight over a proposed zoning amendment comes from the town, which has named two residents in a new lawsuit that seeks to invalidate the origin of the dispute.
David Bonacci and his wife, Loretta Laurenitis, are among 16 residents who collectively sued their town in June over the legality of a protest petition that ultimately blocked the passage of a petitioned zoning amendment in May.
Now the town is suing Bonacci and Laurenitis and seeking a declaratory judgment to end the battle.
Known as amendment 15, the measure would have repealed a zoning overlay district that voters passed in 2017 and altered another passed in 2014.
The districts were aimed at encouraging greater density and more housing in the more developed parts of town, but some residents have said they feel the overlay zones have the potential to negatively affect Peterborough’s character. The planning board opposed amendment 15.
While it garnered more than half the votes at the polls in May, at 778-719, the amendment didn’t receive the two-thirds majority required by two protest petitions, which were signed by enough affected landowners before the vote.
The town filed its suit in Hillsborough County Superior Court Aug. 21 against Bonacci and Laurenitis.
Mark Fernald is representing the group of residents, though he clarified that he is not Bonacci’s or Laurenitis’ attorney in the latest lawsuit.
“I don’t know why the town filed a separate petition,” he said, referring to the town’s ability to add to the existing lawsuit. “It doesn’t make any sense to me, and I don’t know why they picked two voters out of 5,000 to sue.”
Neither John Ratigan, the attorney listed in the complaint, nor anyone in the office of Peterborough’s town administrator was available for comment Thursday or Friday. In this latest suit, the town is asking a judge to declare the zoning amendment invalid on the grounds that it violates the “single subject” rule.
In its ruling in Handley v. Hooksett in 2001, the N.H. Supreme Court referenced a state statute that says each amendment to a town or city’s charter “shall be limited to a single subject but more than one section of the charter may be amended as long as it is germane to that subject.”
The court used this as a doctrine in a 1991 case and again in 2001 to settle disputes over amendments to charters as well as zoning codes. Under the single subject rule, the 2001 decision reads, the interrelated nature of the amendments under the umbrella is more important than the sheer number of them.
Because Peterborough’s zoning amendment sought to repeal one overlay district and make changes to another, the town argues in the complaint that it sought to change two different districts, thus violating the rule.
The complaint says a judge should take into account “whether or not the combination of such zoning amendments has the effect of diminishing the rights to voters to consider such amendments separately.”
Efforts to reach Bonacci and Laurenitis Thursday were unsuccessful.