Despite legal obstacles

by Steve Hoffman | 8/6/93 5:00am

Merry Meadow Farm is moving forward with its plans to open a home for individuals recovering from mental and emotional illnesses despite a lawsuit protesting the town's allowal of such a facility.

In April, the for-profit organization received special zoning board approval to establish a seven-patient facility at 1 Prospect Street, the former location of David's House, a non-profit home for families of children receiving treatment at the Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center.

But many town residents objected to the board's decision, which grants Merry Meadow the same zoning exception that allowed David's House to operate within the town's residential district.

Anne Johnson and Deborah Johnson Pyles, owners of the house next door at 3 Prospect Street, recently filed a lawsuit against the town of Hanover in Grafton County Superior Court alleging that the zoning board improperly considered the Merry Meadow case and did not follow proper procedure.

The lawsuit alleges that the town inappropriately defined Merry Meadow as a "residential institution" when it should be considered a "medical institution." David's House was classified as a residential facility and Hanover's zoning laws would not allow a special exception for a medical facility.

"Merry Meadow is the opposite of David's House," Bill Clausen, attorney for Johnson and Pyles said, adding that David's House's clients have all been diagnosed with illnesses.

Merry Meadow's residents are recovering from mental illnesses requiring hospitalization, but the zoning board found that the facility does not provide medical care and has no doctors or nurses on its staff.

The lawsuit also alleges that the zoning board did not follow proper procedure when it handled the Merry Meadow case.

Despite the suit, Merry Meadow is planning to open its facility next April and is currently finalizing the purchase of 1 Prospect Street from the directors of David's House, who will construct a new home closer to the DHMC.

The case is not expected to go to trial for at least 6 months and, according to Clausen, the court's docket is so backed up that the case might not be heard for two years.

If the court rules against the town, Merry Meadow could have its zoning permit revoked and could be prohibited from operating its facility.

"We feel confident and don't forsee any problems," said Steve Williams, an officer at Merry Meadow. "We are going forward."

Town code administrator Peter Johnson also said he believes the court will uphold the zoning board's decision.

Casting further doubt on the potential trial, Johnson and Pyles sold their property a few weeks after filing the suit and are now unsure if they will pursue the case, Pyles said in a telephone interview from her new home in Maryland.

"We're debating about what to do with the suit," Pyles said. "We feel pretty strongly that the [zoning] board made a mistake."

Pyles said "several" other neighbors have offered to join the suit and to help pay the legal costs, but she declined to disclose any specific names.

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