Judge clears way for ice rink plan at Strawbery BankeBy JAMES A. KIMBLE
Union Leader Correspondent January 28. 2014 8:02PM
BRENTWOOD — A judge has cleared the way for Strawbery Banke to move forward with plans for a seasonal ice skating rink on their property after several neighbors abutting the non-profit museum filed a lawsuit to stop it.
Judge Kenneth McHugh supported the review that Portsmouth's Zoning Board of Adjustment conducted in June.
The city's planning board still needs to approve the project, known as "Puddle Dock Pond," at the non-profit museum.
It's unknown whether the 16 neighbors who brought the lawsuit will appeal.
Jeff Keefe, a co-chairman to the Puddle Dock Planning Committee, said in a released statement that he was pleased with the judge's decision.
Keefe and other volunteers have been working for more than a year on the outdoor skating rink.
"We hope that the opposition will accept this ruling," he said. "We would like to thank the many members of the community who came forward to help defend Puddle Dock Pond. Their financial support was critical in our ability to defend this project. We will continue our progress through the site review process with the city of Portsmouth."
McHugh said after reviewing court arguments and a variety of city records he could not find that the decision to approve variances for the season rink installation was unlawful or unreasonable.
On June 18, the Portsmouth ZBA granted variances for the skating rink to operate during the winter months. Several residents objected to the project at that public hearing, court papers say.
The rink was proposed as an 85-by-120 foot oval with a 60-foot diameter circular skating area with supporting machinery that includes a "rink chiller," a transformer, skate sharpening machine and a concessions pavilion, according to court papers.
Jonathan Springer, a lawyer for the neighbors, argued in court that residents will suffer from declining property values that will decrease because of the noise and traffic caused by those who use the rink.
The museum plans on charging a fee for public skating, skating lessons, "pond hockey" and selling food and alcohol at their café, according to court documents.
Strawbery Banke Museum President Lawrence Yerdon praised the work from volunteer boards and city departmental staff who worked "to ensure Portsmouth's quality of life is both inclusive and vibrant."
"It is extremely gratifying to know that in New Hampshire, the opinions of a limited and self-serving few cannot outweigh the greater good for the community," Yerdon said in a statement.