Neighbors appeal Merry Meadow ruling

by Steve Hoffman | 5/5/93 10:00pm

A Hanover homeowner has appealed a town zoning board decision to allow a facility for people recovering from mental illness to move into an adjacent house in the town's residential district.

Last month Merry Meadow Farm, a for-profit organization, received zoning board approval to establish a seven-patient facility at 1 Prospect Street, a house located at the intersection of Allen and Prospect Streets, one and a half blocks west of Everything But Anchovies.

The appeal, which was filed 30 minutes before the town's deadline, petitions the board for a rehearing.

Hanover attorney William Clausen filed the appeal on behalf of Anne Johnson and Deborah Johnson Pyles, two sisters who own the house next door at 3 Prospect Street, a four-apartment dwelling.

Johnson and Pyles, neither of whom live in Hanover, inherited the property and planned to sell it, Pyles said, but the prospective buyer backed out of the contract following the zoning board's decision to allow Merry Meadow to move in next door.

If the zoning board denies the request for a rehearing, Johnson and Pyles can appeal to the New Hampshire Superior Court. The court can then rule to deny or grant the special zoning exception.

The board will meet next Monday to rule on the petition for a rehearing.

Clausen said he does not expect the board to grant a rehearing and added that the petition is a formality required to bring the case before the Superior Court.

But Pyles said she and her sister have not decided if they will pursue the matter in court if the board rejects their petition.

By a 4-1 vote, the board granted Merry Meadow an amendment to the special zoning exception which allowed David's House to operate in the town's residential zone.

David's House is a non-profit organization that provides lodging to the families of children undergoing treatment at the Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center.

Merry Meadow plans to purchase the building from David's House, which will move closer to the hospital in Lebanon, N.H.

The petition argues that the zoning board improperly classified Merry Meadow as a "residential facility" when it should be considered a "health facility."

Zoning laws prohibit granting a special exception to a medical facility.

Although most of Merry Meadow's residents are recovering from mental illness requiring hospitalization, the facility does not provide direct medical care and has no doctors or nurses on its staff, the original zoning board decision stated.

The appeal states that the board over-stepped its jurisdiction and improperly considered the Federal Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination against people with handicaps, including mental illness.

Clausen said the act "pre-empts zoning ordinances" and the zoning board does not have the authority to apply it. "The board is expert in Hanover zoning. It is not expert in federal statutes," Clausen said in an interview yesterday.

He added that the zoning board decision was based on personal emotions rather than an examination of evidence. The board "was dead wrong," Clausen said.

The petition claims the board did not follow proper procedures when it granted the special exception.

The petition cites the board's consideration of public opinion, its questioning of Merry Meadow representatives and its failure to satisfy the appropriate zoning criteria, as examples of the board's mishandling of the case.