The Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) has denied Al Cardello’s request for a variance to allow him to continue to offer Complete Auto Driving School classes at the Londonderry Presbyterian Church at 126 Pillsbury Road. After the decision was reached, Cardello said he was done with his requests and would move the school back to the Londonderry Lions Hall.
Cardello was represented by Attorney Ashley Scott of Cronin Bisson Zalinsky, PC.
The Wednesday, May 18 decision was the last in Cardello’s request to use the Presbyterian Church classroom for his driving students. He had moved his classes to the church three years ago, after having conducted his classes at the nearby Lions Hall for nine years.
The zone in which both the church and the Lions Club building are located is AR-1, Agricultural-Residential. Cardello’s business is for profit, with students paying a fee to the business at an address in Manchester, as Cardello runs his business as a home occupation. However, he uses the church classroom for two hours, four days a week, for his 12 students to do their classroom bookwork.
In July 2015, the Zoning Board denied Cardello’s request for relief from an administrative order to stop conducting his business at the church. Scott argued at the time that because the church has a history of use for educational purposes from the early 1900s, well before the Town’s Zoning Ordinance was adopted, Cardello should be allowed to offer driving instruction at the church.
Building Inspector Richard Canuel had issued a cease and desist order after Cardello’s use of the church classroom came to light in a different set of circumstances involving a sign. Cardello lost his appeal from the town’s administrative decision and took his case to court, where a denial is pending but a stay had been authorized while he attempted one last effort by seeking the variance last week.
Scott made the case that despite the zoning designation as Agricultural-Residential, there are commercial enterprises at that intersection and Cardello’s use of the church classroom as an accessory use should be allowed.
The main issue remains, however, that Cardello runs a commercial, for profit business and his use of the church classroom for the driving school is thus considered a commercial use. Scott argued that his use of the church classroom is not out of character for the neighborhood and had no negative impact on public safety and thus is not contrary to the spirit of the ordinance, in that other endeavors in that area use facilities for similar purposes.
She added that enforcing the ordinance in this case would create a hardship for Cardello.
Scott contended that there are no agricultural or residential uses in the area, despite the AR-1 designation. She said that denial of the request would cause harm not only to Cardello but to the church as well, as it would deprive it of the monetary support he provides for use of the classroom and utilities.
The board, with members Jim Tirabassi, Jacqueline Benard and David Paquette and alternates Bill Berardino and Suzanne Brunelle, reviewed the five variance criteria as they related to the request for a variance. Those criteria are:
• The variance will not be contrary to the public interest;
• Owing to special conditions, a literal enforcement of the ordinance will result in unnecessary hardship;
• The spirit of the ordinance will be observed;
• Substantial justice will be done; and
• The variance would not diminish the value of surrounding properties.
The sticking point for three of the ZBA members was the fact that the business is a commercial, for profit business, prohibited in that zone. Berardino and Benard both argued that it was strictly classroom use and as such was not contrary to the public interest. They both also said substantial justice would be done by granting the request and Benard said the request met the spirit of the ordinance, as the classroom was just used for assembly.
None of the members thought that granting the variance would have a negative impact on surrounding property values. And Berardino and Benard said that owing to the special conditions, this was a reasonable use. The other three said the fact it was a commercial business made it an unreasonable use.
The board voted 3-2 to deny, with Berardino and Benard voting to approve.
Cardello said after the decision that he was done fighting. He said he had done so out of his desire to help the church, but having spent thousands of dollars in a losing effort, he has decided to move the classroom segment of Complete Auto Driving School back to the Lions Hall.