Taking a Stand

The perseverance of residents in fighting a proposed Dumpster Depot near their Derry neighborhood finally paid off last week when the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) upheld their appeal of the Planning Board’s approval.
The citizens’ group stayed organized and active throughout the six months it took them to go through the process and eventually win their appeal.
The residents, 100 of whom signed a petition against the plan, argued that the Planning Board had approved Dumpster Depot as a “contractor’s yard,” although no definition of such an entity exists in Derry zoning.
The fight was frequently unpleasant, and the charge of lying was levied at the spokespersons for Dumpster Depot, both by the petitioners and by at least one member of the Conservation Commission.
When the ZBA went through the list of prohibited uses in the zone, including “odor, fumes, dust, smoke, vibration and noise,” one board member responded, “It doesn’t look like the Planning Board went through (zoning ordinance) 165.41 in its entirety.”
As neighbor State Rep. John O’Connor, who led the appeal to the ZBA, said at the meeting’s conclusion, quoting from one of the ZBA criteria, “Substantial justice has been done.”
The neighbors are fortunate that enough people persisted in the fight against the developer to carry it through plenty of long months.
The matter now goes back to the Planning Board, and the developer can seek a variance from the ZBA. But right now, things are looking up for the property’s residential neighbors. And they were lucky, as their recourse did not require spending money to fight the matter in Superior Court.
All too often, however, an appeal of a decision necessitates an appearance in court. New Hampshire law makes it easy for people to file appeals – so long as they have the money and the stomach for going to court. They don’t need a lawyer, but if they are going up against a municipality, you can bet a lawyer will be there to defend the town’s position, often leaving the petitioners without the necessary expertise to make their claim successfully.
So while New Hampshire likes to emphasize its “live free or die” motto and the idea that citizens have a say in how they are governed, the motto makes more sense if you have plenty of disposable income than if you are just Joe Citizen, who is likely to find he has to choose whether to pay for food and his mortgage or a lawyer and court fees.

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