April 4, 2011

Zoning complaint pits councilor against councilor

Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY-- The Zoning Board will likely hear evidence this month for a code enforcement appeal, after Town Councilor Janet Fairbanks challenged a staff decision that fellow Councilor Neil Wetherbee’s business requires no special zoning exception.After reviewing the details of the website design business Wetherbee runs with his wife, Wendy, Derry Code Enforcement Officer Robert Mackey found last month that the couple would not require a special residential zoning exception to run the business out of their 18 Worthley Road home.
Wendy Wetherbee also makes silver jewelry at her home, selling some pieces through an online crafting website.
“Typically the way I’ve always looked at it is that if the business itself involves the use of a computer and maybe the use of a telephone, but with no customers and no outward signs of
 a business taking place, then the special exception is not needed,” Mackey said last week. “If there’s any impact to the neighbors or visible signs of the business going on, then I would generally send someone to the (Zoning) Board.”
Fairbanks filed an administrative appeal to Mackey’s decision on March 25, saying the Wetherbees’ actions violate the rules of the residential zone in which they live.
“I feel as councilors, we are held to
 the same standards and regulations as anyone else that resides in Derry,” said Fairbanks. “If you’re not going to ask Neil Wetherbee and his wife to abide by the rules, then don’t expect anyone else who is operating a business out of their home using a computer to come before the Zoning Board seeking a special exception because that’s not fair.”

The town’s zoning ordinance states that special exceptions to residential zoning requirements may be granted by the Zoning Board to allow a resident to conduct a home business in their dwelling. Among a list of conditions are requirements that the business not disturb neighbors, that it will provide sufficient off-street parking for employees, clients and customers, and that no more than one business will be conducted on a property. 
But Neil Wetherbee says that his website design business is not run from his home, as the business has no need for a physical address. 
“This isn’t 1960, and you don’t need brick and mortar to have a business anymore,” said Neil Wetherbee. “I have a home office like a lot of people have home offices in Derry, but quite frankly, I could run my business out of The Coffee Factory up the street if I wanted to.” 
Wendy Wetherbee, who owned the business before she moved to Derry, said she approached Derry’s code enforcement department 12 years ago to see if she would need a special exception and was told she did not. 
“I don’t have any customers at the house and driving by, you wouldn’t know if I was sitting on my couch watching TV or on the phone with a client,” she said. 
Further, Wendy Wetherbee said that her jewelry-making activities are a hobby as opposed to a second business in the home. She said she began selling pieces online last October and has since sold 10 items. 
The Wetherbees said they see Fairbanks’ appeal as a personal attack. 
“This is purely politically motivated,” said Neil Wetherbee. “She just throws it against the wall and hopes that it’s going to stick. And if it doesn’t she still gets to drag my name through the mud again because she hopes it’s going to be negative press for me.” 
Fairbanks denies that claim, saying that the issue had been brought to her attention by a third party. 
“This isn’t personal. Neil would like it to be personal, but it’s really not,” she said. “It’s just something that was brought to my attention, and I follow through with it as I try to do with most things that are brought to me.” 
Neil Wetherbee further said that he thinks Fairbanks is acting as a town councilor and using her position to influence the outcome, which he says violates the town charter. 
“Any member of the Town Council who violates provisions of the charter shall forfeit the office and that’s probably what I’m going to be pushing for,” he said. 
But Fairbanks says she is pursuing the same avenues that any other Derry resident could. “I did not ask Bob Mackey to change his decisions. I leave department heads alone,” she said. “There’s a higher power than Bob Mackey and that’s the Zoning Board. I’m just following the chain of command and that’s my right as a Town Councilor and as a citizen.” 
Mackey said the appeal is scheduled to reach the Zoning Board at its April 21 meeting, where the board will decide if it will take up the appeal and likely begin to hear evidence in the case.

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