Court Sends Monadnock Development Back to Square One

August 28, 2006


Jack Savage, VP for Communications & Outreach
Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests
(603) 224-9945, ext. 330;

Court Sends Monadnock Development Back to Square One

KEENE, NH, August 29, 2006—In a decision handed down late last week, Cheshire County Superior Court Presiding Justice John P. Arnold vacated the July 2005 decision of the Jaffrey Planning Board to allow 36 condo units at the base of Mt. Monadnock in the four-town Mountain Zone, sending developer Robert Van Dyke back to the beginning of the application process.

“People who live in the area and can view Mount Monadnock feel strongly that this is a unique place in New Hampshire and the world,” said former State Rep. Charles Royce, one of the lead petitioners, in reaction to the Court decision. “I’m glad that the Court upheld what citizens in the four-town area said they wanted when they voted to put the Mountain Zone in place.”

The petitioners, who also include 21 other Jaffrey land owners, the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests and the Towns of Dublin and Marlborough, said in their lawsuit that the decisions of the Jaffrey Planning Board and Zoning Board of Adjustment should be voided not only because the development “egregiously violates the spirit and intent of the Mountain Zone”, but also because of the Town’s failure to determine regional impact and to notify regional abutters (the Mountain Zone Towns of Dublin, Marlborough and Troy, and the Southwest Regional Planning Commission) in a timely fashion.

Judge Arnold upheld both contentions, ruling that “…Van Dyke’s proposed development is one which has a potential regional impact. …to approve it without allowing the surrounding municipalities a chance to be heard was in error.” Arnold also wrote in his decision that “…because the petitioners were not afforded the right to be heard…this court finds that the petitioners have been materially prejudiced by their inability to participate in the application process from its earliest stages.”

“This is a great victory for proper planning and the rule of law,” said attorney James Bassett from the Concord firm of Orr & Reno, who represents the petitioners. “Now that the planning process will start over, it will benefit from the timely input from neighboring towns, the regional planning commission and the citizens of Jaffrey. We’re confident that these important local and regional perspectives will enable the Town to arrive at a better decision that appropriately considers the purpose of the Mountain Zone and the precious natural resource that is Mount Monadnock.”

In the decision, Judge Arnold reaffirmed the intent and impact of the Mountain Zone ordinance, writing, “It is the opinion of this Court that the creation of the Mountain Zone indicates that all of the towns involved, including Jaffrey, understood the potential impacts that one town’s actions within the Zone may have on the neighboring municipalities… . Certainly, to evaluate the potential regional impact of a development on Mount Monadnock without any consideration of the area’s special status, a status given to it by the very Town evaluating the proposal, would be to ignore the purpose of the Mountain Zone–a collective effort to protect the natural, scenic beauty of this area.”

“I feel that it was an outstanding team effort that showed the power of the towns, citizens, and organizations to unite and save Mount Monadnock,” said Joe Cavanaugh, Chair of the Board of Selectmen in Dublin.

“We’re pleased that the principle of regional impact was upheld,” said Will Abbott, Vice President for Policy at the Forest Society. “Equally important, this decision recognizes the legitimacy of the Mountain Zone. Mount Monadnock is only one of the many places of special scenic beauty in New Hampshire, and we believe that this will encourage other towns that share areas of natural significance to collaborate on similar regional zones to preserve their collective character.”

In ordering that the developer must start the planning process anew, the court decision vacates the variance and two special exceptions granted by the Jaffrey Zoning Board of Adjustment, as well as the approval of the project by the Planning Board.

In bringing the suit last August, Royce--the former superintendent of Monadnock State Park--said, “The suburbanization of rural mountain areas is happening all over New England and America. We cannot let it happen to Mount Monadnock, a National Natural Landmark that is recognized in New Hampshire law as ‘a unique geographical attraction."

Most of the houses in the development were planned to be 30 feet apart, squeezed together on either side of a road along a 17-acre, 700-yard ridge in the Mountain Zone delineated by the Town of Jaffrey. The proposed lots averaged less than half an acre instead of the standard 1.5 acre zoning allowed in rural areas served by town water. The road access to the site was on Mountain Road in Jaffrey, and the entrance was about 1400 feet west of the sign directing people to the Monadnock State Park.

To view the full text court document click here

The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests is the state’s oldest and largest non-profit land conservation organization. In order to preserve the quality of life New Hampshire residents know today, the goal of the Forest Society, in partnership with other conservation organizations, private landowners, and government, is to conserve an additional one million acres of the state’s most significant natural lands for trails, parks, farms and forests by 2026.