Dispute between Loudon business, neighbors heard in court
Two Loudon residents, the town’s planning board and the owner of a horticulture business appeared in court yesterday over a suit challenging the business’s desire to build a new greenhouse.
Link Moser and Albert Jones filed a suit in Merrimack County Superior Court in the fall alleging the planning board illegally approved New England Flower Farms’s request to build a new greenhouse at Pleasant View Gardens, a wholesale planting and greenhouse building on Pleasant Street in Loudon. Moser and Jones live on Pleasant Street and allege the planning board failed to study the effects of the expansion on traffic, lighting and noise.
“The planning board so rubber-stamped this proposal that it cannot be said with any degree of certainty what the impact of this proposal is,” Dan Wensley, the plaintiffs’ attorney, told Judge Richard McNamara.
Lawyers for the planning board and business, however, said the planning board did its due diligence and that the neighbors’ claims have more to do with the existing facility than the proposed expansion.
In the planned expansion, Pleasant View would tear down its six existing greenhouses and rebuild one greenhouse that will be larger in total square footage. The proposal first came before the planning board for a hearing in July and was approved the same night. One of Pleasant View’s owners, Henry Huntington, was a planning board member, but recused himself at the time so he could speak on behalf of the proposal. He has since resigned from the board because of the court proceedings.
During yesterday’s hearing, Wensley also tried to argue that Pleasant View’s existence on Pleasant Street violated town ordinances because the area is not zoned for that use. That argument, however, had been rejected previously by Judge Larry Smukler, who said zoning disputes need to first go before the local zoning board.
Wensley then detailed his clients’ allegations that the planning board’s decision was “illegal and unreasonable” because the members didn’t ask for any studies on changes to noises, light and traffic. As of now, the plan says the new greenhouse will not be lit, and the planning board ruled Pleasant View would need to come back before the board if it wanted to add lighting. Wensley, however, argued there are not enough details to guarantee the board would thoroughly evaluate any lighting procedures. The current facility, he said, “lights up the sky like the parking lot of a major mall.”
Barton Mayer, attorney for the planning board, said it has to give written reasons for rejections, not approvals, and therefore didn’t need to explain every detail of its decision. On noise, he said the facility already has a public address system and isn’t planning to add an additional one. In terms of traffic, the proposal only anticipates up to a 5 percent increase. Most of Moser’s and Jones’s complaints relate to activity that’s already happening, he said.
“They candidly admit their complaint is with the existing operation,” he said.
Richard Uchida, Pleasant View’s lawyer, echoed these arguments and added that the planning board has heard proposals from Pleasant View seven times in the past 14 years, so the members are familiar with the business and its operations. He also said that the road was heavily trafficked with other business because Pleasant Street is a throughway from Loudon to Chichester and a busy road on race weekends at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway. With its proposal, Pleasant View submitted a traffic plan that says trucks cannot use a specific type of loud brake and will not drive late at night or early in the morning.
In these types of cases, it typically takes about 30 to 60 days for the judge to issue a decision, Uchida said after the hearing. Huntington, a Pleasant View owner, said in the fall that he hoped the expansion would start sometime this year.
(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3390 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @kronayne.)