MERRIMACK – For the third time in 15 months, the Merrimack Zoning Board of Adjustment will take a look Wednesday at the Jehovah’s Witness church proposed for Wire Road, deciding whether to hear an appeal of the project and reconsider their support.
The board initially rejected the proposal, to build on former farm land at 63 Wire Road, in November 2010, citing traffic and safety, among other concerns. But, one year later, board members reconsidered their position this fall after congregation elders’ pressed a lawsuit against the town in federal court.
The two sides arrived at a settlement over the summer, but this fall, a federal court judge rejected the agreement, sending the matter back to the zoning board, which voted in November to approve the church.
“My heart goes out to the abutters ... but my feeling is we couldn’t win (the lawsuit),” board member Phil Straight said at the time.
With the board’s support in hand, project managers prepared to move forward, bringing the project to the town planning board for site plan approval. But, before they gained ground, the project stalled again when Robert and Donna Walles, neighbors and opponents of the church, appealed the zoning board’s decision, charging that board members based their decision more on the pending lawsuit than the merits of the project, among other objections.
“The Town’s zoning ordinance specifies the criteria required to grant a Special Exception. Since ‘cost to the Town’ is not one of the specified criteria, it therefore should not be sufficient reason to overturn the previous decision,” the Walles wrote last month in a letter to the zoning board, which requested that the board conduct a re-hearing on the proposal.
If zoning board members approve the couple’s request, they will schedule a re-hearing date sometime in the coming weeks, and the planning board, which is scheduled to meet on the matter Feb. 7, will likely delay its vote, according to Tim Thompson, Merrimack’s director of community development, which administers both the zoning and planning boards.
No public comment will be accepted at Wednesday’s meeting.