October 12, 2007 
Planning Board rejects church

Union Leader Correspondents

The planning board last rejected a plan for a new church that it had accepted as complete only two weeks ago, a rare move that effectively sent the project back to the zoning board.

Goffstown Harvest Christian Church is proposing a new 400-seat sanctuary, along with a multipurpose gym and an amphitheater, on land that it owns at the corner of Route 114 and St. Anselm Drive.

A church is allowed in that area of town through a special exception. The zoning board granted that special exception at a Feb. 2006 meeting, but by the time the plan came before the Goffstown Planning Board it had undergone significant change. The new version had a different location for the church and driveway and also showed the gym and amphitheater, according to town officials.

Those changes were serious enough to justify reconsidering the previous vote to accept the plan as complete, according to chairman Jo Ann Duffy, who was not present at the Sept. 27 meeting for family reasons.

The vote came as quite a surprise to church members who showed up to the meeting last night expecting to present their plan to the board. Steven Keach, the lead engineer for the project, told the board it had made a serious mistake, based upon a false assumption on what the church planned to do with its new facilities.

Keach said the gym and amphitheater would be exclusively used by the church. Church activities, he said, involved more than just what happened in the sanctuary. “It is more than sitting in a pew, reading a Bible,” he said.

After the meeting, he told the New Hampshire Union Leader that he would return to the zoning board, asking it to reaffirm its previous vote and declare that the gym and amphitheater were among the permissible church uses of the site. Even the town zoning administrator had not taken issue with the changes, Keach noted. 

Keach accused the planning board of confusing its responsibilities with those of the zoning board. He said the zoning board approves uses for sites, and does not subject development plans to the detailed kind of scrutiny that is reserved for the planning board.

“If you follow their logic, you could have one-stop shopping with the zoning board of adjustment,” he said.

The vote last night was the first of its kind that he had seen in his 25 years of professional experience, Keach said, condemning the board for not giving him and the church prior notice. “To have this happen with no forewarning to an existing church in this town is a disgrace,” Keach said. 

Joe Johnsick, the pastor of Goffstown Harvest Christian Church, declined to specifically comment on the vote. “All’s were trying to do is bless this community and serve the people,” Johnsick said.

In other business, the board last night decided against revoking a site plan for the Unique Ford dealership on Mast Road. The business had been cited for several possible violations of its site plan, involving parking and its streaming signs.

But the issue did not come to an end last night. Joe Martin, the general manager for the business, said that in the month since Unique Ford has taken down its streamers and banners, its business has dropped by 50 percent. “We kind of want to do it the right way but we kind of want to stay in business as well,” Martin said.

Unique Ford is expected to come back to the board in two weeks to discuss possible changes to its site plan that will allow more advertising.

The board last night also accepted an application for 92 townhouse-style condominiums off Mountain and Bog roads. The board will hold a hearing on the project later this fall.



Reproduced by the Goffstown Residents Association.


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