Select Board responds to local business owner Andy Tarantino over zoning issue
MANCHESTER — A local businessman who has been waging a battle with the town of Manchester over changes in zoning at his self-storage business has won the change he sought, but the fighting has not ended just yet.
Andy Tarantino did not like it nearly a year ago when he found out his business, A Safe Place Self Storage had its zoning changed to "nonconforming" in Multi Use 2 zone, as part of a massive, year-long overhaul of zoning in the town.
While the business would have been grandfathered in, Tarantino was concerned about his ability to expand or sell his business if chose to do so and thought the change would hurt its value. The Planning Commission had told Tarantino and his representatives that they would revisit the permitted uses in that zone after they completed going through the entire zoning ordinances and had sent the changes back to the Select Board for approval. Several members of the board wanted to revisit all uses in the restrictive Aquifer Protection Overlay area designed to protect the town's water source.
But, after repeatedly taking the case back to the Planning Commission, Tarantino's representatives approached the Select Board in December to seek its help, where they were told that the Select Board wouldn't meddle but would look into the issue.
Tarantino had also circulated a petition in the community requesting the town restore his business' zoning status. He said he collected 265 signatures in three days. That petition was submitted to the Planning Commission, but then withdrawn after the board made the change in the zoning rendering the petition moot.
On Jan. 23, the Select Board took up the issue and held an executive session on the matter.
Select Board Chairman Ivan Beattie called for the session and asked for the first portion to include town attorney Merrill Bent. For the second part of the executive session, the board was joined by Planning Commission Chairman Greg Boshart and Town Manager John O'Keefe.
After the closed-door session, Beattie announced some of what had transpired and released a timeline that he had asked staff to create to bring the board up to speed on everything that had taken place over the previous year.
"I took that very seriously and shortly after [the Dec. 20] meeting, I asked town staff to prepare a complete timeline through the zoning process with all correspondence so we would have an understanding of what had transpired," Beattie said at the meeting. "It was prepared by town staff. It has been reviewed by the chair of the Planning Commission and all individuals involved. I will be reaching out to the complainant with our response, which will be through our attorney."
The release of the nine-page timeline, however, is still a source of contention between the two sides.
In an interview, Tarantino's attorney Jim Dingley said there are questions about the timeline.
"The person who wrote it is part of our concerns," Dingley said. "We have concerns about the timeline's accuracy and transparency. But I need to look at it and issue a written response."
The timeline was put together by Janet Hurley, the town's planning and zoning director, who is the source of some of Tarantino's angst. He also has issues with O'Keefe.
There have been concerns that Hurley and O'Keefe have worked against Tarantino's interests
"Town employees interfered with the planning process by providing inaccurate or untrue information," Dingley said. "That put Andy on the defensive unnecessarily."
That allegation is in reference to the fact that O'Keefe and Hurley had communicated about the issue via email and text, including when O'Keefe sent an email to Planning Commission members with news stories about problems that had occurred at self-storage locations across the country.
In an interview, Beattie said he believed town staff had done their job and done it well.
"Twice it was thrown out there that town staff had covertly worked against Mr. Tarantino in this process," Beattie said. "It would be normal for town staff to raise questions but any decision would rest with the Planning Commission."
He also said that the only people with the information he requested were Hurley and O'Keefe.
"It's a small town," Beattie said. "We have limited staff. She's the one who has direct access to that information. There's two people and unfortunately, they were both involved in the complaint. That's why Greg Boshart was included to corroborate the information. Honestly, I don't know where else I'd go to get that information."
Dingley said that the original problem with the zoning has now been solved to Tarantino's satisfaction.
"We consider it resolved at this juncture," Dingley said. "The zoning ordinance for self storage has been corrected. The entire zoning ordinance has to be voted on by the Planning Commission and then the Select Board has to pass it. We've got the issues resolved."
But now Tarantino is saying he wants the town to pay for his costs he incurred to fight for the change and says actions by two town staff members caused a lot of his problems.
"We believe the town acted inappropriately during a planning commission process," Dingley said. "My client is going to ask for reimbursement for his out of pocket costs. We have not done that yet with the town but we plan to. We hope to deal with that privately."
Dingley said Tarantino is only looking to recoup costs he believes the town cost him, but admitted that's most of the figure.
Dingley wouldn't reveal a dollar figure, but Tarantino has reported the amount to be $14,000.
"We're only looking at the costs for unnecessary expenses," Dingley said. "Our opinion is that the majority of the expenses he incurred were unnecessary."(Editor's Note: After publication, Dingley contacted the Journal to clarify this. "We're only looking at costs for necessary expenses," Dingley said in an email. "Our opinion is that a majority of the expenses he incurred should not have been necessary.")
Beattie said he couldn't comment on that because it involve potential litigation and the board would deal with it as necessary.
He also said he couldn't discuss personnel issues but that the board had determined that staff had not done anything wrong.
"I think its absolves town staff from covertly working against [Tarantino]," Beattie said. "The Select Board feels comfortable that the proper procedure was followed."
He also put a positive spin on the situation.
"It sheds a lot of light on the process and it also shows that, from the perspective of the Select Board, proper access [to government services] was not only allowed but encouraged for Mr. Tarantino," Beattie said. "A good outcome of all of this is we got to take a really good, hard look at the way we go through the process. I'm really comfortable that the Planning Commission is doing its job and town staff is doing their job, we have a clearer picture."
Contact Darren Marcy at firstname.lastname@example.org or by cell at 802-681-6534.
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