By CAROL ROBIDOUX
Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY – A zoning change approved last night by a 4-3 vote will likely become a matter for the courts , where property owner Jon Sobel intends to prove that the the zoning change is illegal.
“It's beyond belief,” said Sobel, following the vote, which changes a small section of the downtown from high density residential to high density residential II, a distinction which prohibits any new multifamily housing.
“The fact that everybody who testified before the town council unanimously stated they do not want a certain type of housing in their neighborhood is the very definition of spot zoning,” Sobel said.
Sobel has been working with the town for several years on a plan to build two small apartment buildings on his four-acre woodsy lot on Wilson Avenue. The plan was never formally submitted, due to several revisions required by the town and the economic downturn of 2008.
In October, a group of neighbors petitioned the Planning Board for the zoning change as Sobel was in the process of preparing for a technical review of his plan – that's when he learned that the matter was scheduled for rezoning before the Planning Board.
Councilors Joel Olbricht, Neil Wetherbee and Janet Fairbanks voted against the change. Olbricht said he had a hard time with a process that would allow neighbors to block a plan in motion by petitioning for a zoning change.
Fairbanks asked that a legal opinion provided to the council be made public, but that suggestion was voted down 6 to1, based on the realization that the matter likely was going to wind up in court.
Council Chair Brad Benson said he felt the right decision was made.
“The town doesn't make decisions based on whether it might get sued. No one wants to see litigation, but what I think was most compelling was that 68 petitioners were willing to give up their right to future development to preserve the spirit of their neighborhood,” Benson said. “I agree with what Councilor Wetherbee said, that maybe we need to take another look at zoning, and take a global approach rather than going neighborhood by neighborhood.”
In other business, Chris Martin was named Cable Facility Coordinator, filling the top job at the town's cable station, which was vacated by Barbara Ellingwood in October. Martin began as a volunteer for Cable 17 in 1995, and has been serving as acting coordinator since Ellingwood's departure.