Abutters oppose scale of proposed 300-unit Enfield housing project

By LIZ SAUCHELLI

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 03-14-2024 7:30 PM

ENFIELD — Residents are pushing back against a proposal for roughly 300 units of housing off Route 4 and Maple Street.

Representatives for the developers came before the town’s Zoning Board of Adjustment Tuesday night to ask for two variances for the project, which proposes 222 apartments and 80 townhouses on the roughly 77-acre vacant property known as Laramie Farms.

The developers asked that the Zoning Board allow the company to build more than one building per primary lot, and to allow them to construct buildings that are taller than the 35-foot height limit set in Enfield’s zoning ordinance.

“If these variances aren’t granted, this project won’t go forward,” land use and zoning attorney John Cronin said during the meeting, which dozens of Enfield residents attended in-person and via Microsoft Teams. Cronin is representing developer John Dibitetto.

The Zoning Board did not rule on the variances Tuesday night and instead agreed to take it up after a site visit. The proposal is at the earliest stages of the approval process and must also gain approval from the Planning Board before going forward.

Many neighbors — including those who live on Maple Street — took issue with the proposed height of the buildings. Preliminary plans call for 222 one- and two-bedroom apartments spread among three buildings that are around 73-feet-tall — double what the current ordinance allows. And 80 two-bedroom town house units would be spread among multiple buildings that are about 44-feet- tall. The buildings would be clustered instead of being spread out all over the 77 acre sand parking would be both on street level and in underground parking garages.

“It’s going to be glaring,” said Gwyn Dessert, an abutter who lives on C-More Drive. “I have a lot of issues with this development.”

Maple Street resident Greg Sargent said that with the estimated elevation of 100 feet above Maple Street combined with the buildings’ proposed height, the development would likely be visible to those who live below it.

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“If that in fact is the case, then that is a huge no-no for the people who have to be forced into seeing this particular (building),” he said during the meeting. “For all of us abutters, the people across the way, we may need to ask for some sort of middle ground.”

Access to the development would be from Route 4, with emergency access from Maple Street. There also are plans for three single-family houses on lots that would face Maple Street.

At the beginning of the meeting, Zoning Board Chairman Mike Diehn said that there is work underway to rewrite town ordinances, including the 35-foot height limit and the number of buildings per lot, and there are plans to bring those proposals before voters next year.

“It’s exceedingly likely that in the 2025 Town Meeting, both of those limitations will be removed from the Enfield zoning ordinance,” he said. “By the time these folks start construction, those provisions will be removed from the zoning ordinance. There are many other considerations, but those facts alone make it difficult to support voting no for these variances.”

After board member Cecilia Aufiero pointed out that residents would have to vote on those changes, Diehn make a clarification.

“We have to act as the law is today, but we have to take the future into consideration,” he said.

The 35-foot ordinance is in place, in part, because at the time it was adopted that was the tallest ladder the Enfield Fire Department had in its fleet, Fire Chief Phil Neily said during the meeting.

“Height, I don’t have a concern with,” he said. “We don’t even use the 35-foot ladder anymore because of (the) weight and the size of it.”

Due to mutual aid agreements with area departments, Neily said that Enfield has access to five ladder trucks, including three from full-time departments such as Lebanon. Response times would be similar to Enfield.

This is at least the third time in two decades a housing project has been pitched for developing the Laramie Farms property. Previous efforts called for single-family homes, then apartment buildings. Dibitetto purchased the property in 2005 along with his brother Michael. At the time, they were planning to build 150 apartments, but the project fell apart when the housing market collapsed in the 2000s.

This proposal comes at a time when there are other multi-family projects currently underway in Lebanon and White River Junction, among other communities. Residents said they understood the area’s need for more housing, but they felt the Laramie Farms project was not a good fit for Enfield.

“This will greatly impact the people who live on Maple Street forever,” Maple Street resident Sharon Beaufait said. “I think we need to consider … the character of Enfield. We are a two-story town.”

She also worried that by approving the height variance, it will set a precedent that other developers could point to when seeking to construct similar buildings.

“I think this is really out of character of Enfield and I think that there’s so many buildings like this in Lebanon and Hanover where … residents aren’t being affected, the quality of the community isn’t being affected,” Beaufait said. “I’m not against development in Enfield but this scale is too big.”

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.

CORRECTION: Gwyn Dessert spoke in opposition to the proposed Laramie Farms development during the Enfield Zoning Board of Adjustment's March meeting. A previous version of this story included an incorrect first name for Dessert.