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Goffstown residents, business owner at odds over nursing home sign

GOFFSTOWN — In a predominantly residential area in Grasmere Village, some homeowners and the owner of a nursing home are at odds over an illuminated sign.

During a Dec. 3 meeting, the zoning board denied a variance to Robert Lenox, owner of Bel-Air Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, at 29 Central St., to place an internally illuminated message sign on his property.

The variance was required because the proposed sign would be 60 and 90 feet from abutting lots in a residential area, where no such signs are permitted within 250 feet. The proposal would have replaced two existing signs. The board, however, decided that Lenox did not fulfill the hardship criteria for the variance.

On Dec. 4, Lenox sent a letter to abutters saying he will now build a high-intensity, externally lit sign, measuring 65 square feet and 16 feet high, which is permitted.

“At this time as there are no restrictions regarding illumination, it is my intention to run all our exterior lighting from dusk to dark. This is not a vindictive decision but one that is made as safety for our staff,” Lenox said in his letter. “In closing, I am disappointed in the decision of the zoning board, however, our new signage will do what it is intended, and that is to make people aware of our location.”

Lenox also sent a sample of the 16-foot tall sign containing the words, “We did not want this sign, our neighbors at 22, 30 and 36 Central St. did!”

Kevin Fox, of 22 Center St., one of several abutters who has spoken against the sign, said Lenox is being vindictive.

“In addition to the offensive content, the sign itself is grossly out of character with the small, colonial, close-knit village of Grasmere and armed with ‘high intensity’ lighting and a ‘reflective background sign,’ which are clearly intended to make manifest the worst fears of his abutters, who were and are afraid of the results such lighting will have once it has made its way into their front rooms and children’s bedrooms,” Fox said. “We are not anti-business. We are not even anti-this-business. We do, however, believe that property owners have a right to the use and enjoyment of their property without bullying from the neighborhood nursing home.”

Brian Rose, Goffstown planning director, said the town allows signs with overhead or external lighting with a maximum of 65 square feet and 16 feet high, that only project light “3 percent of its horizon.”

“If he meets our regulations, we won’t be able to do anything about it. He has to answer to his own actions. I think it’s unfortunate if he does things like that, especially when he said he’s trying to be a good neighbor and statements like that. He did say that’s what he’d do if he didn’t get the variance.”

Rose said if the zoning board determines that an applicant doesn’t meet certain criteria, members have to deny the variance.

At the zoning board meeting, some abutters said they preferred the existing signs that could be updated to fit Lenox’s needs.

Barbara Dexter, 36 Center St., said the safety for children in the neighborhood is a concern and people reading the sign will be distracted and hit the school buses.

“We have quite a few accidents on Center Street already. There is an attractive sign there now. It attracts people to the business,” she said.

Glen Keene, 30 Center St., said the ordinances are in place to protect residents, and he would see the sign from three sides of his home.

During his testimony, Lenox said he is trying to be a good neighbor by presenting a dimmable light that would be turned off from midnight to dusk.

William Amann, Lenox’s attorney, said the business employs about 53 people, mostly from Goffstown, and the sign would increase and benefit the business in this tough economy.

“The point is we don’t want to be obnoxious neighbors,” said Amann. “We are there to perform a service and be in business and to be there a long time.”

Board member Cathy Champagne said she doesn’t see the sign as a safety issue, but the abutters’ concerns should be taken into consideration.

“The variance exists because you are looking to have this sign and the neighbors are extremely relevant. You talk about being a good neighbor. They are the neighbors. You have one in particular saying it would be seen from three sides of his home,” said Champagne. “When you show the larger sign, and you have said it’s either or; if you don’t approve this, we will get this.”

Board member Vivian Blondeau’s motion to approve the internally illuminated sign and turning it off from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., failed. Her concern, she said, is that the business has been in the neighborhood for about 40 years, and questioned if the town should restrict an owner from promoting their business.

“It’s a business. They all moved there knowing a business is there,” she said.

Member Gail Labrecque said Lenox hasn’t met the hardship criterion, as the business is doing well and he has told the board he has received various awards. Labrecque’s motion to deny the application garnered a 3-2 vote.

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