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  • Photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    A farm at 63 Wire Road in Merrimack may soon become the site of a new Jehovah's Witness congregation.
  • Photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    farmland at 63 Wire Road in Merrimack may soon become the site of a new Jehovah's Witness congregation .
Thursday, September 23, 2010

Farmland may sprout congregation

MERRIMACK – For more than 40 years, Ronald Therrien has worked the land at Therrien’s 1897 Farm.

With the sale of the farm set to close, the next owners will look more to the sky than the ground for their livelihood.

With an agreement in place to buy a portion of the land at 63 Wire Road, a congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses is proposing to build a church on the retired farmlands, drawing a mixed reaction from neighbors and farm supporters.

Therrien stopped working the farm earlier this month, and the self-service farm stand known across town for its corn, tomatoes and squash, among other vegetables, will likely close next week, he said.

“It’s really too bad. They have the greatest corn in New Hampshire,” said Bob Walles, who lives across the street from the sprawling farmland.

“I’d love to see it stay a farm. That’s beautiful land, but hey, I believe in God, too. I have no problem with (the church) being there,” he said. “My main concern is that (Therrien) gets what he needs.”

Therrien, 70, who operated the farm since the early 1960s, was looking to sell the 17-acre property for more than a year. But he has struggled to find a buyer given the struggling economy, he said.

“We’ve had a lot of people interested in it,” Therrien said this week. “It was getting the initial down payment that was difficult. ... It’s good to have something going.”

The Merrimack Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, which has moved from location to location for 25 years without a church of its own, first approached Therrien last year, drawn by the size of the property and the quiet of the neighborhood.

The group, which currently attends the Goffstown congregation, is proposing to build a “modest,” single-story building, according to planning documents. The Kingdom Hall, as it would be known, would house only worship services – no classes, day care or athletic events. And with regular meetings scheduled only on Sunday mornings and one weekday evening, the hall would seat about 150 people, though congregation leaders expect an average of about 100 for most meetings, according to Ron Hansen, a congregation elder.

“We want to be good neighbors. That’s foremost in our minds,” Hansen said this week. “We’re a very quiet congregation. It’s a very modest building. ... We want to make sure all those concerns are addressed.”

Some neighbors aren’t convinced and have questioned the additional traffic, noise and lighting the church would bring to the quiet residential neighborhood, adjacent to Daniel Webster Highway in east Merrimack.

“Residents I have talked to do NOT want our community ravaged with traffic on Saturdays and Sundays, and the potential for noise and light pollution,” one resident wrote in an anonymous letter to the Telegraph.

The Merrimack Planning Board agreed to the first step this week, approving a subdivision of the property. Therrien will retain the four-bedroom farmhouse that currently sits on the land, as well as some farmlands to the rear, though he is looking to sell the remainder of the property as well.

Tonight, the town Zoning Board of Adjustment will consider the next step, a special exception request to allow the church within a residential zone.

The matter will then go back to the Planning Board for the site plan review process.

With the special exception in place, the Planning Board will serve mostly to ensure that the project adheres to town zoning ordinances and site regulations, said Nancy Larson, the town’s planning and zoning administrator.

“I think it’s a good fit,” said Therrien, the farmer who plans to open a fritters and fries vending business once the sale goes through. “They want to take good care of the property. They’ll be talking to people in the area. ... They really want everybody to be happy.”

Jake Berry can be reached at 594-6402 or jberry@nashuatelegraph.com.