ZBA Grants Extension with Downtown Derry in Mind

The Derry Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) has granted a second variance extension with an eye to improving downtown, but with a set of conditions for the owners.
Tamara Lampas, representing Kastorian Realty Trust, appeared before the board in its Sept. 5 meeting to ask for a second continuation of a variance first granted in September 2009. The board voted 4-1 to grant the variance, with the condition that she show progress or be working with the Planning Board before another extension is granted.

Lampas was requesting an extension of a variance to allow her to add a second story to property at 49 East Broadway, housing the Sundae Delight ice-cream shop and Derry Express Chinese takeout and to build a two-story addition on an undersized lot lacking off-street parking.
Lampas had asked for a variance in 2011 and she did so Thursday night, citing the current economic conditions as the reason for not going ahead with the already-approved construction.
She reviewed her original reasons for the variance, arguing among other reasons that it would improve the historic downtown and would bring the building into conformity with surrounding structures.
But on this third round, the board focused on the process rather than the reasoning.
Chairman Allan Virr quizzed Lampas, saying, “The original variance was in 2009. You asked for the continuation in 2011. Are you asking the same thing in 2013?”
“I was hoping the economic climate would improve, but it has not,” Lampas said. “There are a lot of empty storefronts, a lot of empty office space.”
Virr said he didn’t see the economy making a full recovery until 2018. “Are you going to ask for continual extensions?”
Virr and Code Enforcement Officer Bob Mackey noted that the state RSAs for zoning ordinances were revised in August and include a provision that limits the number of extensions a ZBA can grant.
Lampas said she was in for the long haul. “Any improvement to this property, be it two years or four years, is an improvement to downtown,” she said. “It’s better than keeping it stagnant.”
Vice-chair Lynn Perkins asked her for her plan for parking, since the undeveloped lot won’t have room for off-street parking. Lampas said clients could make use of off-street parking or the municipal lot across the street, which is rarely full. She said she envisioned tenants such as accountants, whose clients would be in and out and not need all-day parking.
But Perkins warned that relying on on-street and municipal parking might not satisfy the Planning Board.
Perkins suggested that Lampas take the project off the ZBA’s table, and “come back when you’re ready. You might want to consider not asking for the extension.”
But Lampas countered that having the approval of a board would help her group get financing.
The board discussed the “Hardship” condition for a variance. Member Teresa Hampton asked what the hardship would be if the variance were denied, and Lampas said she and her staff would continue to pick up trash and cigarette butts from the vacant lot.
“The only hardship I see,” Virr said “is that if you came back you’d have to pay the fees, notify the abutters and re-present the proposal.”
But Mackey reminded the board that the hardship had already been established in the original request for a variance.
Mackey discussed the terms of RSA 674:33, the revision in the state zoning laws, which requires that a variance or special exception will expire after two years. “But it can be renewed for a good cause,” Mackey sad.
Former ZBA member Al Dimmock spoke in favor of Lampas’s renewal request. “I hear people all the time talking about ‘Downtown Derry, what can we do,’” Dimmock said. “This woman is fighting the economy of our time. The deck is stacked against her.” It’s an opportunity for the board to help her, Dimmock said, and “Any good banker will look at her application and say, ‘You’ve got some backing here.’”
In the board’s deliberation time, Virr said his position was clear. “Two years from now we may be looking at another request for renewal, and another two years from that.”
Perkins said, “Whatever board is sitting here has the ability to deny the variance, or set conditions, or give it again.”
Perkins suggested extending the variance, but with the condition that in two years Lampas have begun working with the Planning Board or Technical Review Committee, or have started construction.
The board voted on a motion to grant the extension subject to a condition that there be no further renewals after 2015 unless Lampas is in the process of obtaining Planning Board approval “or substantial construction has taken place.”
The board voted 4-1 to grant the extension, with Virr’s the dissenting vote “because there has been no substantial construction and no contact with the Planning Board.”