By CHELSEY POLLOCK
Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY -- A Portsmouth man is suing the town of Derry for damages after he says a recent rezoning along Wilson Avenue unfairly devalued his 4-acre property
Jonathan Sobel, an orthopedic surgeon who lives in Portsmouth and holds an office in Derry, says he had been planning for years to put up multifamily housing on his largely undeveloped land along Wilson Avenue. (See related story: "Arrested Development" April 5, 2010)
There is currently a singlefamily home on the site, which Sobel said he rents out. The home would’ve remained in place as part of plans to construct two, 10-unit buildings on the 4 acres.
But a rezoning approved in June changed the area from a medium high-density residential zone to a similar designation that excludes multi-family housing.
Though Sobel and his project engineer had talked with town staff several times about the project since 2006, no formal plans had been submitted.
In the fall of 2009, area residents submitted signed petitions asking for a rezone of properties east of Birch Street. Blanche Garone, wife of Derry’s longtime police chief Ed Garone, was one of the residents who spearheaded the efforts, according to town staff. The Garones live next-door to Sobel’s property.
The town Planning Board recommended the zoning change after a public hearing last March. The council then approved the rezoning, 4-3, in June.
In a writ of summons filed at Rockingham County Superior Court earlier this month, Sobel claims the town used the rezoning to block his particular project from the neighborhood.
A total of 68 properties were affected by the change, including some existing multi-family uses that will be grandfathered in. But Sobel says his property was the only one of the group that had immediate opportunity for new development.
“They spot-zoned the neighborhood so we were unable to proceed with our plans to provide high-quality housing that’s within walking distance to downtown,” Sobel said in an interview. “My personal opinion is that this is a giant act of bad faith on the town’s part.”
And Sobel said he thinks the Garone’s proximity to the project put pressure on the decision.
“We feel that not only are we at great economic loss, but that there is an issue of the properness of the decision and whether it was unduly influenced by the chief of police or unduly influencedbythe67(neighbors),” Sobel said.
Sobel said he wants to be compensated for what he called the devaluation of his property, the engineering costs he had already put into the project and attorney fees associated with the suit.
Derry Town Administrator John Anderson said he couldn’t comment on the pending litigation, but said that town officials will comply with all legal processes.