Developer Takes Town to Court, Alleges Bad Faith

A local developer will face the Town of Derry in court in December, after his claims that the Derry Planning Board acted in bad faith toward a proposed project at 22 Lenox Road.

Joseph Develis and his business partner, David Gerlack, are challenging the town on a Planning Board decision Develis charges is “blatant unfairness.”
Develis has done five or six projects in town and “never had a problem,” he said in a phone interview. He owns two businesses in Derry, the construction office he shares with Gerlack and an automotive business he runs on his own, both on Scobie Pond Road.
The current problem began when they bought the property at 22 Lenox Road, in the Medium High Density Residential (MHDR) district. They restored a 100-year-old New Englander-style home on the property. During the restoration of the antique home, Develis approached Code Enforcement Officer Bob Mackey about putting a duplex on the property. The land is zoned MHDR, Derry’s densest zoning, and he didn’t think there would be an issue.
In the beginning, there wasn’t. Told he needed 150 feet of frontage, Develis realized he was 14 feet short and approached his neighbor, James Isbell, about a lot line adjustment. Isbell is the owner of the historic Judge Pillsbury House, which was built before the setback laws.
“I offered him a lot line adjustment, and he agreed,” Develis said. “He agreed to sacrifice 14 feet of his frontage, and he would make up the difference in back.”
They would be in conformity with the lot line adjustment, Develis said, adding, “Bob Mackey told me I could do it.”
The Technical Review Committee, including Mackey, Planning Director George Sioras, Assistant Public Works Director Tom Carrier and representatives of Police and Fire, also approved the project.
So Develis began to work on the project. He had to move the water system across the street, which cost $10,000, he said. A transformer required by Public Service Company of New Hampshire cost $3,000. They spent $14,000 in surveying and engineering and $2,200 in permitting.
“We spent $30,000, under the guidance of people who have been in their positions 20 or 30 years,” Develis said.
The Technical Review Committee signed off on everything, he said.
Then he came before the Planning Board.
Former Town Administrator John Anderson was a member of the Planning Board last spring, Develis said. In his first appearance before the Planning Board, Develis and his engineer, Tim Winings of TJW Survey, presented the request for the lot line adjustment. Anderson was “shaking his head before we even spoke,” Develis alleged. The lot line adjustment passed, with Anderson’s the only dissenting vote.
The site plan review was next, with Anderson “shaking his head again,” according to Develis. Though Carrier had said it was not necessary for the project to be hooked up to town sewer, Develis objected. “It’s the MHDR – I could put up to 10 homes. And the existing house is grandfathered – it’s 100 years old,” he said.
“They pushed it off until the next meeting.”
At that point he decided he needed a lawyer, and engaged Attorney Patricia Panciocco.
In a subsequent meeting, Develis asked for several waivers and they were all denied, except for a request to keep overhead utilities. He said, “The existing neighborhood is old and has above-ground electricity. It’s more congruent to keep it.”
In the second meeting, the approval of the project was tabled again, including the lot line adjustment, which was restored and then rescinded. Panciocco wrote a letter to Sioras, the planning director, saying that “you can’t pass something and then rescind it,” Develis said.
Panciocco also contended that there are “condo complexes all over Derry” and a precedent had been set.
The third meeting had Develis on the agenda behind the controversial Dumpster Depot proposal on Ashleigh Drive. “By the time they were done with Dumpster Depot, it was 9:40 p.m.,” Develis said. “They allotted us 20 minutes, denied it and blew us out the door.”
All his direct abutters are in favor of the project, and School Administrative Unit (SAU) 10 Superintendent Laura Nelson also gave her approval, as the property abuts Grinnell Elementary School.
“I was ‘played,’” Develis said. “That third meeting, they threw us under the bus.”
Sioras declined to comment on the matter, citing the pending legal issue.