Wilton to cabin owner: tear it down
Thursday, March 21, 2013
WILTON – It’s just a small prefabricated cabin perched over Stony Brook, but it’s a big problem to John Shepardson.
The cabin is on a steep, skinny strip of land along Route 31, and the town building inspector says its owners built it without getting a building permit and its existence violates a host of town and state land use regulations.
The owners don’t see it that way, saying that the new cabin only replaces one.
Shepardson said he had notified the owners, part of a company called NTV LLC, that if they built a new cabin on the property they would need a permit.
The owners ignored that advice, he said, and never appealed the decision to the Zoning Board and last summer they started construction, clearing vegetation and excavating holes, in violation of state law.
The town is now petitioning New Hampshire Superior Court, asking that the owners be ordered to remove the building and restore the lot to its original condition.
In a March 7 letter, town attorney Silas Little said the structure violates the town’s zoning ordinance, its building code, the flood plain conservation district and the wetlands conservation district, because it’s within 50 feet of the water. Also, he wrote, the cabin violates the state Shoreland Water Quality Protection Act, because it was built within the protected shoreline.
NTV LLC is represented by Wilton attorney John Griffith, with Sebastian Valente of Wilton and California, as a principal owner.
In a phone interview last week Barbara Woodward, who works in Griffith’s law office and is Valente’s mother, said they have not built anything, “merely replaced a fishing cabin that was there.” That means, she said, the building is exempt from any approval process. Woodward said the town’s building code does not require a permit to replace an existing small hunting or fishing camp where the purpose of the building hasn’t changed.
Too much time
But Shepardson said too much time has passed, and the cabin hadn’t been used in many years. The building was a non-conforming use, he said, and the town’s zoning ordinance states “a non-conforming use may not be re-established after it is discontinued for more than one year.”
Woodward also said the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services has inspected the property and said the building was OK.
Shepardson, however, said the owners “have got the DES buffaloed,” because they told the agency there was no excavation on the property, and that isn’t true, “I saw an excavator digging holes,” he said.
“It doesn’t matter if the DES doesn’t enforce the Shoreland Water Quality Protection Act. The town can. and I’m going to.”
Shepardson said he wants people to know the town is aware of the violations and doesn’t like them.
“I don’t consider it a buildable lot. At least they should have gone through the ZBA. None of that happened,” he said.
“I told them from the get-go they could not obtain a permit to build on that land.”
Woodward, however, said “we are upgrading and beautifying” the property, and taxpayers’ money should not be used for “frivolous litigation,” she said.
But Shepardson said he expects the court to decide in the town’s favor.
“When the judge tells them to tear it down, I think the chance of recovering (legal fees) is pretty good,” said the building inspector.
The town attorney’s letter to the court asks for both a permanent and a temporary injunction to prevent “further degradation of protected areas.”
The lot in question, now sealed off by a chain-link fence and numerous no-trespassing signs, is part of three or four contiguous lots along Stony Brook purchased by NTV in 2011. They include the old mill across from Intervale Machinery and Supply store, about a quarter mile downstream.
The property was a small fishing camp called The Last Outpost, built probably in the 1930s, according to local historian Jessie Salisbury.
No fish stocking
The brook flows into the Souhegan River in downtown Wilton, and up until recently the state Fish and Game Department used the cabin site and a footbridge on the property for stocking fish.
Fish and Game Conservation officer Todd Szewczyk said he would no longer use it for that purpose, since it’s not open to the public and he will stock the stream, with brook trout and rainbow trout, further upstream.
Shepardson said selectmen have been apprised of the situation, and there is more at stake than just one cabin.
“I don’t want a string of people” saying they want to build a cabin on their stream or pond, he said. “It’s a precedent that’s unacceptable.”
Kathy Cleveland can be reached at email@example.com or at 673-3100, ext. 304.